If You Get an Apple Card, Opt Out of Arbitration

John Moltz:

If you get an Apple Card today, remember to reject arbitration! It’s crazy easy. Go to the card in Wallet, tap the ellipsis and then Message. Then just text that you want to reject arbitration and they’ll connect you with the poor sap at Goldman Sachs who’s doing all these.

See also: Barbara Krasnoff at The Verge: “You Should Opt Out of the Apple Card’s Arbitration Clause — Here’s How”.


Apple Card Account Information Is Only Accessible Via iOS Wallet App

Nicole Nguyen, writing for Buzzfeed News:

Apple Card is a new cash-rewards credit card that — Apple purports — is designed to be simple and transparent. But it’s also aimed at keeping you locked into your iPhone.

There are no paper statements with the digital-first Apple Card. Unlike a traditional credit card, everything is accessed through the Wallet app on the iPhone, including transaction histories, total balances, previous statements, and payments. There’s no website to view the latest transactions made on the card or make a payment if you lose access to that Wallet app.

I don’t think the reason for this is to keep you locked to your iPhone, although that’s certainly a side effect. I think this simply reflects Apple’s internal culture. Apple’s culture is to make native apps for everything as a first priority, with web interfaces as a much lower priority. And in recent years, that’s shifted from native apps for iOS and Mac to just native apps for iOS. (E.g. the craptacular Catalyst apps for Stocks, News, Voice Memos, and most especially Home.) It feels ridiculous that you can’t access your Apple Card account from a Mac, whether from a native Mac app or from a website.

In some ways making the iOS Wallet app the primary interface to your Apple Card probably makes for a great experience. (I haven’t signed up for one — yet? — so I can’t say firsthand.) But not having access from a desktop computer is severely limiting in ways. Nguyen focuses on the scenario of what happens if you only have access to one iOS device and lose it (or it breaks). That’s a legitimate scenario. But what about being able to, say, export your monthly and annual statements? Or being able to search?

My hope is that Apple Card is only accessible via the iOS Wallet app for now, and that wallet.apple.com will eventually be a full-featured interface to your card account.


Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg on What’s Next for Tumblr

Great interview by Nilay Patel and Julia Alexander from The Verge with Matt Mullenweg, on Automattic’s acquisition of Tumblr from Verizon.

A lot of people are making hay over the price — Yahoo paid $1.1 billion for Tumblr six years ago, and Verizon apparently sold it to Automattic (best known as the parent company of WordPress) for just $3 million. But it seems clear that Verizon wasn’t looking for the best price — they were looking for the best home. Might be hard to believe because we’re talking about Verizon here, but there’s no other explanation than that they wanted to do what was best for Tumblr — both its employees and its users. Admirable.

Mullenweg’s remarks on the influence of app stores — and I think it’s pretty clear he was largely talking about Apple’s, and that he talked about them in the general lowercase sense so as not to come across as impolitic — was rather eye-opening. Automattic pretty much embodies the ideal of a for-profit company that fully embraces the open web. Their core product, WordPress, is and always has been fully open source. But apps are so important today — and so important for Tumblr users, apparently — that app store policies have significant influence on Automattic’s decisions on content policies.


Counterfeit George Orwell Books on Amazon

David Streitfeld, writing for The New York Times:

In George Orwell’s “1984,” the classics of literature are rewritten into Newspeak, a revision and reduction of the language meant to make bad thoughts literally unthinkable. “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words,” one true believer exults.

Now some of the writer’s own words are getting reworked in Amazon’s vast virtual bookstore, a place where copyright laws hold remarkably little sway. Orwell’s reputation may be secure, but his sentences are not.

Over the last few weeks I got a close-up view of this process when I bought a dozen fake and illegitimate Orwell books from Amazon. Some of them were printed in India, where the writer is in the public domain, and sold to me in the United States, where he is under copyright.

Amazon’s credibility problem with counterfeit products is as bad as ever, but it’s particularly rich when it comes to bastardized versions of Orwell’s oeuvre.


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Rambo: Apple Arcade to Cost $5/Month

Guilherme Rambo, writing at 9to5Mac:

Today, I was able to get information about the price of an Apple Arcade subscription to customers. This information is available in one of the APIs used by the App Store app. According to a promotional message found in the service, the price for Apple Arcade will be $4.99 / month, including a one-month free trial. As Apple previously announced, the service will allow access to all members in a Family Sharing account.

That’s a very appealing price, especially considering that it includes family sharing. And from what I hear, Apple is aggressively recruiting developers to create exclusive games for Arcade. I not only think this will be very successful for Apple and participating developers, but I think it could disrupt the whole mobile gaming industry. Pay-to-win games could see a big decline.


Jamf Now

My thanks to Jamf for sponsoring last week at Daring Fireball to promote Jamf Now. For many people, IT is a task and not a career. Now you can support your users without help from IT.

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Yankees Clinch 27th Straight Winning Season

Bryan Hoch, MLB:

Securing their 27th consecutive season with a winning record, a streak that dates to 1993 and is second in Major League history only to their 39-season run from 1926-64, the Yankees peppered rookie starter Aaron Civale for three runs and eight hits over six innings.

What a streak. Next best in MLB are the Cardinals with 11.


WatchOS 6 Beta Suggests New Series 5 Watches in Titanium and Ceramic

Nice scoop from iHelpBR. Marco Arment’s take:

Two fantastic watch materials. Titanium in watches can be made to look like steel but slightly darker and much lighter-weight, and the previous white-ceramic Editions were really cool.

Agreed. Watch-grade titanium is a very different beast than the titanium in the original PowerBook G4 models. The fact that it’s much lighter should make haptics better than in the stainless steel models.


★ Siri, Privacy, and Trust

Three weeks ago, writing for The Guardian, Alex Hern reported:

Apple contractors regularly hear confidential medical information, drug deals, and recordings of couples having sex, as part of their job providing quality control, or “grading”, the company’s Siri voice assistant, the Guardian has learned.

Although Apple does not explicitly disclose it in its consumer-facing privacy documentation, a small proportion of Siri recordings are passed on to contractors working for the company around the world. They are tasked with grading the responses on a variety of factors, including whether the activation of the voice assistant was deliberate or accidental, whether the query was something Siri could be expected to help with and whether Siri’s response was appropriate.

Apple says the data “is used to help Siri and dictation … understand you better and recognise what you say”.

But the company does not explicitly state that that work is undertaken by humans who listen to the pseudonymised recordings.

I pooh-poohed this story at first, mostly on the grounds that I thought we knew about this, and that the recordings were only saved from users who had consented to it. I was mistaken. This is a privacy fiasco, and a betrayal of Siri users’ trust.

A week later, Apple issued statements to TechCrunch and The Verge stating that it was suspending this “grading” program. From Matthew Panzarino’s report at TechCrunch:

Apple says it will review the process that it uses, called grading, to determine whether Siri is hearing queries correctly, or being invoked by mistake.

In addition, it will be issuing a software update in the future that will let Siri users choose whether they participate in the grading process or not.

My reading of this is that until last week, if you used Siri in any way, your recordings might be used in this “grading” process. If I graded Apple on the privacy and trust implications of this, I’d give them an F. I don’t think it’s debatable whether users of any voice assistant should have their recordings listened to or even reviewed (in text form) by human employees without their express consent. But especially users of Siri, given Apple’s prominent position as a privacy focused company. Apple literally advertises on the basis of its user-focused privacy policies — but apparently the billboards should have read “What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone, except for some of your Siri recordings, which we listen to.”

From Sam Byford’s report for The Verge:

Apple did not comment on whether, in addition to pausing the program where contractors listen to Siri voice recordings, it would also stop actually saving those recordings on its servers. Currently the company says it keeps recordings for six months before removing identifying information from a copy that it could keep for two years or more.

Until the opt-in process is crystal clear, Apple should delete all existing recordings and confirm that it is no longer saving them. I don’t even know where to start with the fact that until this story broke, they were keeping copies with identifying information for six months. This defies everyone’s expectations of privacy for a voice assistant.

We should expect Apple to lead the industry on this front, but in fact, they’re far behind. Amazon has a FAQ written in plain language that explains how Alexa works, and how to view your voice recordings from Alexa-powered devices. You can review them in the Alexa app in Settings: Alexa Privacy (a pretty obvious location) or on the web. That settings page also has an option: “Use Voice Recordings to Improve Amazon Services and to Develop New Features”. I think Amazon should make clear that with this turned on, some of your recordings may be listened to by Amazon employees, but it’s not too hard to surmise that’s what’s going on.

Apple offers no such setting, and offers absolutely no way to know which, if any, of our Siri recordings have been saved for review by employees. This is something we should have explicit, precise control over, but instead it’s a completely black box we have no control over or insight into whatsoever.

From a privacy perspective, there are two fundamental types of Siri interactions: purposeful and accidental. Purposeful interactions are when you press the side button or say “Hey Siri” with the intention of invoking Siri. Accidental interactions occur when the button is pressed too long accidentally, or when a device incorrectly hears “Hey Siri” even though you said no such thing. All recorded Siri interactions should be treated by Apple with extraordinary care, but accidental invocations, when identified, should be deleted immediately unless the user has expressly agreed to allow it — each and every time. Having Apple contractors listen to random conversations or audio is the nightmare scenario for an always-listening voice assistant.

Compare and contrast with iOS’s transcript feature for voicemail. At the bottom of each transcription, iOS asks whether the transcription was “useful” or “not useful”. Tap on either of those and you get a very explicit prompt:

Help Improve Transcriptions?

Would you like to submit this voicemail to Apple to improve transcription accuracy?

Recordings will only be used to improve the quality of speech recognition in Apple products.

Do not submit recordings if you believe the speaker would be uncomfortable with you submitting the content to Apple.

The two buttons at the bottom of the prompt: Cancel and Submit. You must address this same prompt every single time you flag a transcription as useful or not useful. Every time. That’s how you do it.

In addition to being correctly respectful of privacy, the voicemail transcription feature also puts the user in control. So when a voicemail is transcribed poorly, you can flag it and submit it to Apple. That would be a great feature for Siri — when an interaction goes poorly, and we know the interaction was innocuous in terms of revealing anything private, we should be able to flag it and submit it to Apple. I firmly believe that Siri has gotten far more useful and far more accurate in the last few years, but clearly it’s still very far from perfect. I’d be happy to help Apple by submitting failed interactions on a per-interaction basis. Apple needs to stop pretending Siri is perfect.

I’ll give the final word to Steve Jobs, speaking about privacy back in 2010 at Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg’s D8 conference:

“Privacy means people know what they’re signing up for, in plain English and repeatedly. I believe people are smart and some people want to share more data than other people do. Ask them. Ask them every time. Make them tell you to stop asking them if they get tired of your asking them. Let them know precisely what you’re going to do with their data.”

I can’t say it any better than that.

‘Performance Matters‘

Hillel Wayne:

Many ambulances now have electronic PCRs, which fix a lot of these problems. The report is automatically filed with the hospital. The software can enter timestamps and fill in necessary boilerplate. By spellchecking known medications it saves time at the hospital. Nobody has to guess whether you scrawled “100mg” or “160mg”.

The ambulance I shadowed had an ePCR. Nobody used it. I talked to the EMTs about this, and they said nobody they knew used it either. Lack of training? «No, we all got trained.» Crippling bugs? No, it worked fine. Paper was good enough? No, the ePCR was much better than paper PCRs in almost every way. It just had one problem: it was too slow.

It wasn’t even that slow. Something like a quarter-second lag when you opened a dropdown or clicked a button. But it made things so unpleasant that nobody wanted to touch it. Paper was slow and annoying and easy to screw up, but at least it wasn’t that.

I think about that a lot.

I think the difference between UI design and UX design often gets lost in a lot of highfalutin jargon. But at a basic level there is a clear difference: the interface might be well designed and clear, but if it is slow and laggy, the experience of using it will be unpleasant, and people will go out of their way to avoid using whatever it is.

I repeat this point often, but it’s a moral obligation for designers to keep in mind what users will do, not what they “should” do. These EMTs perhaps should use the ePCRs because doing so might reduce errors; but in practice they stick with paper and pen because the ePCR machines are slow.

See also: Craig Mod’s “Fast Software, the Best Software” essay, which I linked to a few weeks ago.


‘WeWork Isn’t a Tech Company; It’s a Soap Opera’

Elizabeth Lopatto, writing for The Verge:

On August 14th, The We Company (the company formerly known as WeWork) filed its mandatory S-1 paperwork to go public, and it’s worth reading in full. I mean, forget the serious stuff for a moment. The thing begins with an epigram: “We dedicate this to the energy of we — greater than any one of us, but inside all of us.”

The energy of we. I get it from a branding perspective — they’re literally calling themselves The We Company — but, you know, normal people would just say “our energy.” I tease Silicon Valley’s tech companies a lot, but New York easily matches them in ego. Look at these kids, literally bending the English language to their will!

Anyway, please join me on an annotated trip through my favorite parts of the mandatory filing.

Lopatto’s piece is a truly joyful look at a wacky company. Anyone who thinks The We Company should be valued at $50 billion is nuts — they’re more like a cult than a tech startup.


Version Museum: A Visual History of Your Favorite Technology

Neat project from an anonymous (?) father and son team:

Version Museum showcases the visual history of popular websites, operating systems, applications, and games that have shaped our lives. Much like walking through a real-life museum, this site focuses on the design changes of historic versions of technology, rather than just the written history behind it.

(Via Kottke.)


App Store Editorial Stories Are Now Available on the Web

Benjamin Mayo, writing for 9to5Mac:

Apple has recently updated its App Store Preview pages for stories to allow users to view the full content of stories from inside their desktop web browser. App Store stories have always been shareable as links, but the web version was just a title and a navigation link to ‘open this story in the App Store’.

Between August 9th and August 11th, Apple has upgraded the experience and now includes full imagery, app lists and paragraphs copy in the web version. This means you can access the same content online as you would be ale to find in the native App Store experience.

Apple has put together a great editorial staff for the App Store, and works with many talented freelance writers and artists, so it’s great that their work can now be seen on the regular web. I have many times decided against linking to App Store articles simply because the stories weren’t on the web — prior to this, the only way to read them was using a recent version of iOS or MacOS. I get that these stories are intended to drive engagement with the App Store, but it just seemed spiteful not to put them on the open web.

Here, for example, is a nice write-up about Yoink, one of my very favorite Mac utilities.

Update: Mayo, on Twitter, points to one significant shortcoming of these articles on the web — they don’t include video.


Ugly Gerry

Type design as political activism — very clever.


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Tim Cook Meets With U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl Schultz at Apple Park

Steve Jobs, 1983: “It’s better to be a pirate than join the navy.”


The Talk Show: ‘A Clear Eyed Look at Dishwashers’

Special guest John Siracusa finally returns to the show. Topics include the Siri voice recording fiasco, Siracusa’s epic Mac OS X reviews, and making good ice.

Brought to you by these fine sponsors:


iOS 13 Will Let You Delete Apps Right From the App Store Update List

Old news from WWDC two months ago, but this is a feature I’ve long been wishing for.


Mud Maker: The Man Behind MLB’s Essential Secret Sauce

Emma Baccellieri, writing for Sports Illustrated:

This always does the trick. It prevents anyone from exploring what he’s actually doing, which is what he’s done for decades, what his father did before him, and his grandfather before him: Bintliff is collecting the mud that is used to treat every single regulation major league baseball, roughly 240,000 per season.

Mud is a family business; it has been for more than half a century. For decades, baseball’s official rule book has required that every ball be rubbed before being used in a game. Bintliff’s mud is the only substance allowed. Originally marketed as “magic,” it’s just a little thicker than chocolate pudding — a tiny dab is enough to remove the factory gloss from a new ball without mucking up the seams or getting the cover too filthy. Equipment managers rub it on before every game, allowing pitchers to get a dependable grip. The mud is found only along a short stretch of that tributary of the Delaware, with the precise location kept secret from everyone, including MLB.

I’ve long known that baseballs are treated with mud, but I had no idea it all comes from the same source. And it’s crazy that even MLB doesn’t know the exact location.


The History of Clarus the Dogcow

With FileMaker changing its name back to Claris — with an i — it’s worth revisiting Stephen Hackett’s history of Clarus — with a u — the dogcow.


FileMaker Goes Back to ‘Claris’


“Claris stems from the Latin root ‘clarus,’ which means ‘clear, bright and shining,’” said Brad Freitag, Claris CEO. “Nothing better encapsulates the company’s mission: to empower the problem-solver with smart solutions that work for their business. By extending the reach of our platform as a modern, multi-faceted, and powerful merger of on-premises custom apps and third-party services, our customers can streamline their business processes across the cloud services that they use every day.”

If this name change doesn’t bring a nostalgic smile to your face, you probably weren’t a Mac user in the 1990s. FileMaker is still going strong, but back in the day, Claris had a slew of great Mac productivity apps.


Uber Posts $5.2 Billion Loss and Slowest Ever Growth Rate

Kate Conger, reporting for The New York Times:

Uber set two dubious quarterly records on Thursday as it reported its results: its largest-ever loss, exceeding $5 billion, and its slowest-ever revenue growth.

The double whammy immediately renewed questions about the prospects for the company, the world’s biggest ride-hailing business. Uber has been dogged by concerns about sluggish sales and whether it can make money, worries that were compounded by a disappointing initial public offering in May.

Is there any evidence to suggest that Uber will ever turn a profit? I just don’t see it.


Samsung Galaxy Note 10

Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge:

The Note 10 starts at $949 and comes in just one configuration: 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. The Note 10 Plus starts at $1,099 with 12GB RAM / 256GB storage and you can spend $100 more to get 512GB of storage. Both are available for preorder today and will ship on August 23rd.

Kind of interesting to ship the regular Note with just one storage configuration. Also: Samsung’s first flagship phones without headphone jacks.

The Note 10 Plus 5G — temporarily exclusive to Verizon in the U.S. — will cost $1,300. I don’t think that’s crazy — for most people, their phone is both their most-used, most-important computer and their main camera.


Shape Up

My thanks to Basecamp for sponsoring DF last week to promote Shape Up. If your team struggles to make progress on projects, it’s time to reconsider the way you work.

There’s a whole new approach called Shape Up. It’s not agile, it’s not scrum, and your walls won’t be lined with Post-It Notes. There are no daily stand ups, design sprints, backlogs, velocity tracking, or busywork. None of that.

Shape Up is an entirely different approach. One developed and honed over 15 years of building one of the world’s most popular collaboration tools. The method is unlike anything you’ve tried — and quite a bit better.

I’ve been friends with and following the team from Basecamp for as long as DF has existed and I’ve always been inspired by their willingness to share everything they know. Read up for free at basecamp.com/shapeup.


The Talk Show: ‘Start a Bakin’ Timer’

Another new episode, with special guest Marco Arment. Topics include MacBook Pro rumors, breakfast cereal, Siri frustrations, and more.

Sponsored by:


Damned If They Do, Damned If They Don’t

Headline from Jon Swartz’s report for MarketWatch on Apple’s Q3 results: “The iPhone Just Did Something It Hasn’t Done in Nearly 7 Years, and It Isn’t Good for Apple”.

What could it be? This:

Sales of signature smartphone are less than half of Apple’s quarterly revenue for the first time since 2012.

So from 2013-2018, the oft-repeated narrative was that Apple was in trouble because they were too dependent on iPhone sales. Now they’re diversifying, particularly through services and wearables, and that’s “not good for Apple”. OK.


LG Updates Their 5K 27-Inch UltraFine Display

Juli Clover, writing for MacRumors:

Available for $1,299.95, the new LG UltraFine 5K Display offers the same 5120 × 2880 resolution as the previous UltraFine 5K Display with 14.7 million pixels and P3 wide color gamut.

The display connects to a Mac using a Thunderbolt 3 cable, and this version of the monitor can connect using USB-C, which means that it’s also compatible with the iPad Pro. There are three downstream USB-C ports with speeds up to 5Gb/s, and when used with a Mac notebook, charging over TB3 is supported with up to 94W of power available.

When connected to an iPad Pro via USB-C, it’s limited to 4K resolution, but the old 5K UltraFine Display didn’t support iPad Pro at all. When the previous 5K UltraFine Display started disappearing from retailers — especially Apple’s own store — most of us assumed it was being discontinued, leaving Mac users with no good options for a 5K display. Good to know it was simply being updated.

But I’ve been holding out hope that in addition to the $5,000–7,000 Pro Display XDR, Apple might also release their own 6K (or even 5K) Pro Display without all of the advanced color and brightness capabilities, for pro users whose work doesn’t require those expensive features. This update to LG’s UltraFine Display makes me think that’s now less likely.


Apple Maps in iOS 13

Ryan Christoffel, writing for MacStories:

Timed with the spread of its first-party mapping data, Apple is giving the Maps app a big upgrade in iOS 13 that represents the company’s biggest push yet to overtake Google Maps as the world’s most trusted, go-to mapping service. Apple Maps in iOS 13 represents — if you’re in the US at least — Apple’s purest vision to date for a modern mapping service. Here’s everything that it brings.

Comprehensive overview of what’s new, and where Apple Maps stands versus Google Maps.


Apple Reports Third Quarter Results

Apple Newsroom:

Apple today announced financial results for its fiscal 2019 third quarter ended June 29, 2019. The Company posted quarterly revenue of $53.8 billion, an increase of 1 percent from the year-ago quarter, and quarterly earnings per diluted share of $2.18, down 7 percent. International sales accounted for 59 percent of the quarter’s revenue.

“This was our biggest June quarter ever — driven by all-time record revenue from Services, accelerating growth from Wearables, strong performance from iPad and Mac and significant improvement in iPhone trends,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “These results are promising across all our geographic segments, and we’re confident about what’s ahead. The balance of calendar 2019 will be an exciting period, with major launches on all of our platforms, new services and several new products.”

Solid quarter. As usual, Jason Snell has a bunch of informative charts and graphs.


The Talk Show: ‘Pousse-Café’

Special guest John Moltz returns to the show for a mid-summer Q&A episode, answering actual questions from actual listeners.

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‘Fast Software, the Best Software’

Craig Mod:

I love fast software. That is, software speedy both in function and interface. Software with minimal to no lag between wanting to activate or manipulate something and the thing happening. Lightness.

Software that’s speedy usually means it’s focused. Like a good tool, it often means that it’s simple, but that’s not necessarily true. Speed in software is probably the most valuable, least valued asset. To me, speedy software is the difference between an application smoothly integrating into your life, and one called upon with great reluctance. Fastness in software is like great margins in a book — makes you smile without necessarily knowing why.

I love this essay so much I wish I could kiss it. One of the confounding aspects of software today is that our computers are literally hundreds — maybe even a thousand — times faster than the ones we used 20 years ago, but some simple tasks take longer now than they did then. Opening the Web Export dialog in Photoshop, for example.


Apple to Acquire Majority of Intel’s Smartphone Modem Business

Intel Newsroom:

Intel and Apple have signed an agreement for Apple to acquire the majority of Intel’s smartphone modem business. Approximately 2,200 Intel employees will join Apple, along with intellectual property, equipment and leases. The transaction, valued at $1 billion, is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2019, subject to regulatory approvals and other customary conditions, including works council and other relevant consultations in certain jurisdictions.

No surprise here. 2,200 new employees sounds like a lot, but they’re just going to keep working on what they were already working on: cellular modems. Remember this bit of the Cook Doctrine: “We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make.” If anything, Apple waited too long to take control of its modems the way it has its SoC’s.

Update: Here’s Apple’s press release. The big tell: their executive quote is from Johny Srouji.

“We’ve worked with Intel for many years and know this team shares Apple’s passion for designing technologies that deliver the world’s best experiences for our users,” said Johny Srouji, Apple’s senior vice president of Hardware Technologies. “Apple is excited to have so many excellent engineers join our growing cellular technologies group, and know they’ll thrive in Apple’s creative and dynamic environment. They, together with our significant acquisition of innovative IP, will help expedite our development on future products and allow Apple to further differentiate moving forward.”


Motherboard: ‘Amazon Requires Police to Shill Surveillance Cameras in Secret Agreement’

Caroline Haskins, reporting for Motherboard:

Amazon’s home security company Ring has enlisted local police departments around the country to advertise its surveillance cameras in exchange for free Ring products and a “portal” that allows police to request footage from these cameras, a secret agreement obtained by Motherboard shows. The agreement also requires police to “keep the terms of this program confidential.”

This is a bad look for both sides.


Joanna Stern on the Current State of 5G Across America

Joanna Stern, writing for The Wall Street Journal:

Eager to test out a technology that’s been more hyped than flavored sparkling water, I embarked on a 5G expedition from Denver to Atlanta to Chicago to Manhattan’s Lower East Side. I mostly used the new, $1,300 Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, one of the first 5G phones and the only one available across all the carriers. I also tested the LG V50 ThinQ 5G on Sprint’s network; Verizon has a version but I didn’t test it.

After nearly 120 tests, more than 12 city miles walked and a couple of big blisters, I can report that 5G is fasten-your-seat-belt fast… when you can find it. And you’re standing outdoors. And the temperature is just right.


★ Superhuman and Email Privacy

Mike Davidson, “Superhuman’s Superficial Privacy Fixes Do Not Prevent It From Spying on You”:

Last week was a good week for privacy. Or was it?

It took an article I almost didn’t publish and tens of thousands of people saying they were creeped out, but Superhuman admitted they were wrong and reduced the danger that their surveillance pixels introduce. Good on Rahul Vohra and team for that.

I will say, however, that I’m a little surprised how quickly some people are rolling over and giving Superhuman credit for fixing a problem that they didn’t actually fix. From tech press articles implying that the company quickly closed all of its privacy issues, to friends sending me nice notes, I don’t think people are paying close enough attention here. This is not “Mission Accomplished” for ethical product design or privacy — at all.

If you haven’t been following this saga from earlier this month, it’s well worth your time to read the whole thing, including Davidson’s original post and Superhuman CEO Rahul Vohra’s genuinely thoughtful — but ultimately unsatisfying — response.

Basically, Superhuman is an invitation-only Gmail front-end whose users seem to genuinely love it. But they embed tracking pixels in emails by default, and use these pixels to show the sender when (and until last week, where, which is truly fucked up) the recipient views them. They call them “read receipts”, and functionally they do work like read receipts, insofar as they indicate when you read a message. But real email read receipts are under the recipient’s control, and they’re a simple binary flag, read or unread — they don’t tell the sender how many times or when you view a message.

I know that mailing list software generally includes tracking pixels. I don’t think that’s ethical either. On a personal level, though, with Superhuman, tracking when and how many times a recipient views a message is simply absurdly wrong.

It’s also something the vast, overwhelming majority of people don’t even realize is possible. I’ve told the basic Superhuman tracking story to a few people over the last few weeks, and asked whether they realized this was possible; all of them expressed shock and many of them outrage as well. Email should be private, and most people assume, incorrectly, that it is. You have to be a web developer of some sort to understand how this is possible. Email is supposed to be like paper mail — you send it, they get it, and you have no idea whether they read it or not. It bounces back to you if they never even receive it, say, because you addressed it incorrectly. The original conception of email is completely private.

But also, the original conception of email is that messages are plain text. No fonts, no styles, just plain text, with optional attachments. But those attachments are embedded in the message, not pulled from a server when the message is viewed.

Once we allowed email clients to act as de facto web browsers, loading remote content from servers when messages are viewed, we opened up not just a can of worms but an entire case of canned worms. Every privacy exploit for a web browser is now a privacy exploit for email. But it’s worse, because people naturally assume that email is completely private.

Read receipts should be under the control of the recipient, not the sender. Full stop. The strength of email is that it is open and decentralized, but that’s email’s weakness too. No closed messaging platform that I’m aware of allows for read receipts that are controlled by the sender, not the recipient.

I think Superhuman should be ashamed of themselves for building this feature in the first place — particularly the geo-tracking. But ultimately, email clients should defend against this. The fact that this nonconsensual tracking is even possible should be treated as a serious bug in all email clients. Apple Mail — both on Mac and iOS — allows you to disable loading of remote images as a preference, but that breaks most graphically rich emails. Mail clients should allow remote images but load them anonymously, through a proxy server perhaps. I’m sure it’s a tricky problem to solve, but I’m convinced it can be solved.

Email should be every bit as private as people assume that it is.

Facebook Negotiated Its Rules

Great column from Matt Levine, writing for Bloomberg:

But the process wouldn’t be a one-on-one negotiation. It’s not like Congress would say “we want to regulate your data collection practices” and Facebook would say “hmm no we’d rather you didn’t” and Congress would say “okay you have good lawyers we give up.” Facebook’s main leverage against the FTC — “we don’t think we did anything wrong and if you insist on restricting our data collection we will see you in court” — just wouldn’t work to stop Congress from making a law, because it is irrelevant. Congress can make a law about data privacy even if no one has broken any previous laws. In fact that’s the best reason to make a law! “There is a bad thing that is happening, and there is no law against it, so we should make a law against it”: That is a perfectly sensible line of reasoning!


Stop-Motion Version of ‘The Shining’ Made With Lego

Beautiful work by filmmaker and Lego enthusiast Wim Laroy.


BMW to Charge $80 Annual Fee for Apple CarPlay

Greg Fink, reporting for Car and Driver:

BMW will turn Apple CarPlay into a subscription service beginning with its 2019-model-year vehicles.

The German automaker currently charges a one-time $300 to add Apple CarPlay capability to navigation-equipped BMW models. Going forward, though, navigation-equipped BMWs will come with CarPlay at no charge for one year. Following that first year, customers will need to pay an annual fee of $80 to maintain the relationship between their Apple device and their BMW’s infotainment system.

That is some serious next-level bullshit right there.

Update: Turns out this story is 18 months old — and I linked to it then, too! — but is somehow making the rounds again now (perhaps because this is the year when it took effect).


★ Apple Is Sending Out Another Silent Update To Fix the Webcam Flaw in Zoom’s Partner Apps

Nicole Nguyen, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

The fallout from Zoom’s massive webcam vulnerability continues. In a report published today, security researcher Karan Lyons shows that the same flaw — which gave attackers easy access to laptop cameras and microphones — affects RingCentral, which is used by over 350,000 businesses, as well as Zhumu, essentially the Chinese version of Zoom.

On July 16, Apple confirmed that it had released another silent update to Macs patching the vulnerability affecting Zoom’s partner apps. The update, which went out this morning, requires no user action, but may take some time to roll out to all impacted Macs. Lyons tweeted that Apple’s latest update takes action on 11 different apps, all vulnerable to the Zoom webcam flaw.

So here’s an interesting question. I’ve been using the phrase “nonconsensual technology” to describe Zoom’s invisible web server that remained installed and running even after you deleted the Zoom app. But when Apple first issued a silent, emergency system update to remove Zoom’s software, a few DF readers emailed or tweeted to ask: Isn’t this “nonconsensual technology” too?

Clearly, the answer sounds like yes at first. Users get no indication of the update, and “requires no user action” makes it sound like it’s mandatory. But there is a setting to control this, allowing Mac users to disable the automatic installation of such updates. On MacOS 10.14 Mojave, it’s in System Prefs → Software Update → Advanced (screenshot); on 10.13 High Sierra, it’s in System Prefs → App Store (screenshot). In both versions, the checkbox is labeled “Install system data files and security updates”, and resides at the bottom of the section that controls what gets installed automatically.

This option is enabled by default — even if you choose to install regular system updates manually — which is why the vast majority of Mac users are getting these “silent” updates automatically. But if you disable this option, even these silent updates won’t be installed automatically. I confirmed this with an Apple spokesperson, who emphasized that Apple only issues such updates “extremely judiciously”. Any pending security updates will be installed the next time you manually update software.

I think Apple has struck a nearly perfect balance here, between doing what’s right for most users (installing these rare emergency updates automatically) and doing what’s right for power users who really do want to control when updates — even essential ones — are installed. I also think Apple is doing the right thing by going to the press and explaining when they issue such updates. If I could tweak anything, it would be to have these updates show up in the regular list of pending software updates if you have “Install system data files and security updates” turned off.

★ On Bill Gates’s ‘Greatest Mistake Ever’

Speaking of Microsoft and mobile, this story caught my eye a few weeks ago:

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has been reflecting on his time at the company when crucial decisions were made over its mobile operating system. During a recent interview at Village Global, a venture capital firm, Gates revealed his “greatest mistake ever” was Microsoft missing the Android opportunity:

“In the software world, particularly for platforms, these are winner-take-all markets. So the greatest mistake ever is whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is. That is, Android is the standard non-Apple phone platform. That was a natural thing for Microsoft to win. It really is winner take all. If you’re there with half as many apps or 90 percent as many apps, you’re on your way to complete doom. There’s room for exactly one non-Apple operating system and what’s that worth? $400 billion that would be transferred from company G to company M.”

A lot of the response to this has focused — correctly — on the antitrust implications of Gates’s “winner takes all” acknowledgement. Nilay Patel had a strong take: “Bill Gates Accidentally Makes the Case to Regulate the Hell Out of Platform Companies”.1

But I’m fascinated by the way he phrased the opportunity that Google seized with Android: to be “the standard non-Apple phone platform”. It’s just assumed in his thinking that the iPhone would have been the iPhone no matter what. Historically, that sounds bananas coming out of Bill Gates’s mouth.

You can make a strong case, too, that Apple might not have survived its 1996-97 nadir without Microsoft’s support. I’ve always felt the $150 million investment in Apple that Microsoft made in 1997 was overrated. It just wasn’t that much money, even for Apple at that time.2 It was symbolic theater — and it worked. The value for Apple wasn’t the money itself but the public show of confidence from Microsoft — the message that Microsoft was supporting Apple, not trying to crush them.

But the real benefit for Apple — the factor that I think truly helped save the company — was securing a promise that Microsoft would continue to work on Office for Mac for at least another five years. And it wasn’t just token “support” — Office 98 for Mac was a major update and truly improved the Mac-like-ness of the apps. Here we are 22 years later and the Office for Mac apps are chart-toppers in the App Store.

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to argue that the Mac probably wouldn’t have survived without Office, and possibly without a good version of Office. And in 1997 Apple wouldn’t have survived if the Mac platform hadn’t made a resurgence. Apple’s own iWork suite — Pages, Numbers, Keynote — didn’t ship until 2005. Microsoft Office singlehandedly kept the Mac a credible platform for classic productivity apps for 8 years.

There were other third-party developers that Apple was dependent upon back then. Adobe certainly comes to mind — Apple needed the graphic design and illustration market, and that required (and still does require) Adobe’s pro apps. But it was never in Adobe’s interest not to continue supporting the Mac. If anything, it was in Adobe’s own interest to see the Mac thrive so that Adobe wouldn’t be dependent solely upon Microsoft and Windows.

Microsoft, of course, had some serious antitrust problems in the ’90s. If not for U.S. v. Microsoft, though, I wonder whether Gates would’ve chosen to drop Office for Mac and let Apple wither. I’m not saying anyone could have or should have predicted the iPhone and Apple’s dominance of mobile profits all the way back in 1997. Nobody really predicted what the iPhone would be in 2007, even. But if Microsoft had an inkling of what the iPhone would become, and where Android would come in and take over as, in Gates’s own words, “the standard non-Apple phone platform” by fast-following the iPhone’s basic all-display, all-multitouch design, maybe they’d have thought differently about helping Apple recover in 1997. With no Office 98, there might not have been an Apple to even make the iPhone in 2007. And with no iPhone in 2007 it’s impossible to say what the mobile phone state of the art would look like today. Without the iPhone, I think there’s a chance the mobile market would have continued on the same course it was on before the iPhone: dominated by crap software and BlackBerry-style hardware, with the carriers calling the shots. In that world, Microsoft might’ve had a chance.

If losing the mobile market to Android was Gates’s biggest mistake, you can argue it started when he agreed to support Apple and the Mac in 1997.

  1. I’d be curious to hear Gates’s take on the console market, where there are two longstanding platforms — PlayStation and Xbox — sharing the non-Nintendo segment of the market. (Clearly Nintendo is the Apple of gaming.) With better licensing terms (Android being free of charge and open source was a huge boon compared to Microsoft’s mobile licensing) and a faster follow on an iPhone-inspired design, I’m not convinced that Windows Phone could not have been Xbox to Android’s Playstation. ↩︎︎

  2. Microsoft sold its Apple shares in 2003. If they’d held onto them for another decade they would’ve made $20-30 billion. Not that Microsoft has ever been strapped for cash. ↩︎

★ On the Post-Ive Future of Design at Apple

I did a brief chat with Rene Ritchie for Vector, his YouTube show, over the weekend. I thought it was a great little interview — far more condensed than my own podcast, and with a full transcript to boot.

One key point that I missed in my first take on Ive’s departure is that having design chiefs Evans Hankey (Industrial Design) and Alan Dye (Human Interface Design) report directly to COO Jeff Williams does make sense organizationally. What I had missed is that coincident with the announcement of Ive’s departure, Apple promoted Sabih Khan to senior vice president of operations. Apple hasn’t had an SVP of operations since Jeff Williams held the title, back when Tim Cook was COO under Steve Jobs. Back then Williams ran operations while Cook ran the company and Jobs devoted his remaining time to new products.

Williams still holds the title COO, but titles don’t mean much at Apple. Rank matters, of course, and SVP is an elite level at Apple — there are only 13 executives at that level, and one of them is still Jony Ive. But the literal titles don’t necessarily describe what executives do. Eddy Cue’s title — senior vice president of internet software and services — comes to mind. I don’t know where one would begin crafting a succinct title that accurately describes Cue’s domain, but that’s not it. That just doesn’t matter at Apple.

This means Sabih Khan is running operations now. Jeff Williams’s title hasn’t changed, but he’s effectively now running product development. He’s led the Apple Watch product team from its inception; now I think he’s overseeing product for everything. Cook and Williams did run operations while holding the COO title, but what “COO” really means at Apple is “second in command”. Tim Cook didn’t move design under operations; he promoted Williams to a new position, effectively “chief product officer”, and as such it makes sense that Hankey and Dye would report to him.

Only time will tell if that’s a better structure than replacing Jony Ive with a new chief design officer. But I feel a lot better about it than I did last week when the news broke.

★ Jony Ive Is Leaving Apple

Apple Newsroom:

Apple today announced that Sir Jony Ive, Apple’s chief design officer, will depart the company as an employee later this year to form an independent design company which will count Apple among its primary clients. While he pursues personal projects, Ive in his new company will continue to work closely and on a range of projects with Apple.

First: Wow. There’ve been rumors for years that Ive had one foot out the door, that his last real interest at Apple was designing Apple Park, not Apple products. But it’s something else to see it. This angle that he’s still going to work with Apple as an independent design firm seems like pure spin. You’re either at Apple or you’re not. Ive is out.

Second: This dropped like a bomb. As far as I can tell no one in the media got a heads up about this news. Ever since Steve Jobs died it’s seemed to me that Ive ran his own media interaction.

Third: This may be good news. Ive is, to state the obvious, preternaturally talented. But in the post-Jobs era, with all of Apple design, hardware and software, under his control, we’ve seen the software design decline and the hardware go wonky. I don’t know the inside story, but it certainly seems like a good bet that the MacBook keyboard fiasco we’re still in the midst of is the direct result of Jony Ive’s obsession with device thinness and minimalism. Today’s MacBooks are worse computers but more beautiful devices than the ones they replaced. Is that directly attributable to Jony Ive? With these keyboards in particular, I believe the answer is yes.

Fourth: Apple’s hardware and industrial design teams work so far out that, even if I’m right and Ive is now effectively out of Apple, we’ll still be seeing Ive-designed hardware 5 years from now. It is going to take a long time to evaluate his absence.

Fifth: Fuck this “sir” shit. We don’t have titles in the United States.

“Jony is a singular figure in the design world and his role in Apple’s revival cannot be overstated, from 1998’s groundbreaking iMac to the iPhone and the unprecedented ambition of Apple Park, where recently he has been putting so much of his energy and care,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “Apple will continue to benefit from Jony’s talents by working directly with him on exclusive projects, and through the ongoing work of the brilliant and passionate design team he has built. After so many years working closely together, I’m happy that our relationship continues to evolve and I look forward to working with Jony long into the future.”

Translation: He’s gone.

Design team leaders Evans Hankey, vice president of Industrial Design, and Alan Dye, vice president of Human Interface Design, will report to Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer.

This organizational structure makes no sense to me.

I’ve never been an “Apple is doomed without Steve Jobs” person. But part of what made Apple the Apple we know in the post-1997 era is that when Jobs was at the helm, all design decisions were going through someone with great taste. Not perfect taste, but great taste. But the other part of what made Jobs such a great leader is that he could recognize bad decisions, sooner rather than later, and get them fixed.

I think Tim Cook is a great CEO and Jeff Williams is a great COO. But who’s in charge of product design now? There is no new chief design officer, which, really, is what Steve Jobs always was. From a product standpoint, the post-Jobs era at Apple has been the Jony Ive era, not the Tim Cook era. That’s not a knock on Tim Cook. To his credit, Tim Cook has never pretended to be a product guy, which is exactly the hubris that John Sculley succumbed to back in the early ’90s, leading to the Newton being launched far before it was ready and the Macintosh platform languishing.

My gut sense for years has been that Ive without Jobs has been like McCartney without Lennon. Or Lennon without McCartney — take whichever analogical pairing you prefer. My point here is only that the fruit of their collaborations were, seemingly magically, far greater than the sums of the duos’ talents and tastes.

One thing I do know — which Cook alludes to in his statement above, and which I think was made crystal clear in Ian Parker’s extraordinary 2015 profile of Ive in The New Yorker, which is, in my opinion, the most insightful piece ever written about post-Jobs Apple — is that Jony Ive had moved beyond designing computers. And let’s be clear: the entire point of Apple has always been and should always remain designing computers. Everything they make is a computer. Their genius in recent years has been making things that don’t seem like computers but really are computers. Apple Watch is a computer. AirPods are computers. We’ve got computers — excellent computers — in our fucking ears. That’s Apple.

But Ive’s attention turned more toward architecture. Apple Park is going to be a 100-year testimony to Jony Ive’s design. And it’s fascinating to me that Ive is leaving Apple with a single typeface — San Francisco — that the company now uses for everything. It’s the system font for every platform. It’s the only font they use for advertising and packaging. Type choices under Steve Jobs were excellent, but always a little ad hoc. Myriad for advertising and packaging, Lucida Grande for Mac OS X, Helvetica for the iPhone. I think it’s safe to say that Steve Jobs was far less rigorous than Jony Ive. The rigor necessary to develop a single type family that can work for everything from a digital watch face to a 100-foot billboard advertisement is extraordinary. And Ive has also brought that rigorous consistency to Apple’s architecture. Their new campus and their new retail stores are of the same design language — lighting, materials, furniture.

But Apple doesn’t need a chief architect. They’re only going to build one Apple Park and it’s already been done.

It makes me queasy to see that Apple’s chief designers are now reporting to operations. This makes no more sense to me than having them report to the LLVM compiler team in the Xcode group. Again, nothing against Jeff Williams, nothing against the LLVM team, but someone needs to be in charge of design for Apple to be Apple and I can’t see how that comes from operations. I don’t think that “chief design officer” should have been a one-off title created just for Jony Ive. Not just for Apple, but especially at Apple, it should be a permanent C-level title. I don’t think Ive ever should have been put in control of software design, but at least he is a designer.

I don’t worry that Apple is in trouble because Jony Ive is leaving; I worry that Apple is in trouble because he’s not being replaced.