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‘How to Vote’

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-20 16:59, modified on 2018-10-21 05:34

Demi Adejuyigbe with a short lesson on how to democracy.

Link: youtube.com/watch?v=8uMZL3jkJV4&feature=youtu.be


Jony Ive on the Apple Watch and Big Tech’s Responsibilities

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-19 19:55

Nice little interview with Ive by Nicholas Foulkes for The Financial Times:

“I think we have been lulled into this sense that people will accept new products and services very quickly, and I don’t believe that’s true at all,” he says. “Very often, so much of what a product ends up being able to do isn’t what you initially thought. If you’re creating something new, it is inevitable there will be consequences that were not foreseen — some that will be great, and then there are those that aren’t as positive. There is a responsibility to try and predict as many of the consequences as possible and I think you have a moral responsibility to try to understand, try to mitigate those that you didn’t predict.”

“If you genuinely have a concern for humanity, you will be preoccupied with trying to understand the implications, the consequences of creating something that hasn’t existed before. I think it’s part of the culture at Apple to believe that there is a responsibility that doesn’t end when you ship a product.” As he speaks, his face rearranges itself into a troubled frown. “It keeps me awake.”

If you can’t get past the FT’s paywall, going through a Google search might help.

Link: ft.com/content/20aad4d4-d2ba-11e8-a9f2-7574db66bcd5


[Sponsor] Flow

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-19 22:00, modified at 22:40

Flow is a professional UI Animation tool that lets you design in Sketch and export your animations to production-ready code (iOS or HTML).

With Flow, we are building a new class of motion design for anyone with a creative flair and a taste for building beautiful products and writing great software.

Want to save time integrating motion? Want to get that fine detail into an app? Flow is a powerful tool for crafting your vision and exporting high-quality layout and animation code.

Give us a shot with our 30-day free trial.

Link: createwithflow.com/?utm_source=df


Apple CEO Tim Cook Is Calling for Bloomberg to Retract Its Chinese Spy Chip Story

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-19 17:27, modified on 2018-10-20 23:08

John Paczkowski and Joseph Bernstein, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

“There is no truth in their story about Apple,” Cook told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview.

This is an extraordinary statement from Cook and Apple. The company has never previously publicly (though it may have done so privately) called for the retraction of a news story — even in cases where the stories have had major errors, or were demonstrably false, such as a This American Life episode that was shown to be fabricated.

Reached for comment, Bloomberg reiterated its previous defense of the story. “Bloomberg Businessweek’s investigation is the result of more than a year of reporting, during which we conducted more than 100 interviews,” a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News in response to a series of questions. “Seventeen individual sources, including government officials and insiders at the companies, confirmed the manipulation of hardware and other elements of the attacks. We also published three companies’ full statements, as well as a statement from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We stand by our story and are confident in our reporting and sources.”

I’m calling it now. Bloomberg is fucked on this story. The longer they drag this out before a full retraction, the more damage they’re taking to their long-term credibility. Read their statement closely — they’re not saying their story is true or that Apple and Tim Cook are wrong. All they say is they spent a year on the story and spoke to 17 sources multiple times.

And the bottom half of BuzzFeed’s story is even more damning than the top — no one in the security community has been able to verify anything in Bloomberg’s story. Anything at all. And no other news publication has backed the story. Bloomberg is all alone on this.

Link: buzzfeednews.com/article/johnpaczkowski/apple-tim-cook…


Landscapes of Ladakh, India

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-19 00:20

Gorgeous photos from Om Malik, all shot on an iPhone XS Max.

Link: om.blog/2018/10/landscapes-of-ladakh-india/


Apple Announces October 30 Event

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-18 18:36, modified at 22:53

Presumably to announce all-new iPad Pro models, and, I hope, new MacBooks. (I don’t want to jinx anything by even mentioning new Mac Minis outside a parenthetical.) The event is being held on the east coast, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s 2,100-seat Howard Gilman Opera House.

Apple often holds private press briefings in New York, including an iPhone XR preview for YouTube creators yesterday. But the only media event I can recall in New York was their education-focused event in January 2012 at the Guggenheim. Unless I’m overlooking something, Apple has not introduced new hardware products at an event in New York since the days of Macworld Expo. 1999, maybe, when they introduced the first iBook and AirPort base station and Phil Schiller performed a genuinely impressive stunt on stage.

Link: loopinsight.com/2018/10/18/watch-apples-next-special-event/


Q4 Daring Fireball Sponsorships

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-17 15:58, modified on 2018-10-18 01:17

The schedule is mostly open for DF sponsorships through the end of the year. If you’ve got a product or service you want to promote to DF’s savvy audience, get in touch. Weekly sponsorships now include both a sponsored post in the DF RSS feed at the start of the week and the display ad you see over there in the sidebar. Sponsors have been reporting great results from this combination.

Special: The sponsorship for this current week remains open. Act quickly and you can scoop it up at a discount.

Also, The Talk Show is largely sold out through the end of the year, but does have a few openings remaining. I think the show is a great opportunity for smaller indie companies — hardware or software. Get in touch with Neat.fm for details, or with me directly if you want to work out a deal for a combination of a weekly sponsorship and a podcast spot.

Link: daringfireball.net/feeds/sponsors/


Lawsuit Claims Facebook Inflated Ad Metrics Up to 900 Percent

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-17 15:30

Ethan Baron:

Not only did Facebook inflate ad-watching metrics by up to 900 percent, it knew for more than a year that its average-viewership estimates were wrong and kept quiet about it, a new legal filing claims.

A group of small advertisers suing the Menlo Park social media titan alleged in the filing that Facebook “induced” advertisers to buy video ads on its platform because advertisers believed Facebook users were watching video ads for longer than they actually were.

That “unethical, unscrupulous” behavior by Facebook constituted fraud because it was “likely to deceive” advertisers, the filing alleged.

If true, Facebook’s big “pivot” to video was really a scam. Again, Facebook is looking more and more like a criminal enterprise. A Silicon Valley racket.

Link: mercurynews.com/2018/10/16/facebook-lured-advertisers-by…


The Talk Show: ‘It’s a Deep Notch’

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-17 03:07

Dan Frommer returns to the show. Topics include Apple Watch Series 4 and the notion of third-party watch faces, Google’s Pixel 3 phones and Pixel Slate two-in-one tablet/notebook, and Bloomberg’s disputed “The Big Hack” story.

Brought to you by these fine sponsors:

  • Casper: Save $50 on select mattresses with code talkshow.
  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Check out with code talkshow for 10% off your first order.
  • Tres Pontas: Freshly-roasted coffee from a single farm in Brazil, shipped directly to you. Use code thetalkshow at checkout and save an extra 10% on any subscription.

Link: daringfireball.net/thetalkshow/2018/10/16/ep-231


Google Will Start Charging Android Device Makers a Fee for Using Its Apps in Europe

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-16 20:44

Jacob Kastrenakes and Nilay Patel, writing for The Verge:

There is one other key change happening here. In the past, Google required that companies building phones or tablets that included the Play Store only build phones and tablets that included the Play Store — they couldn’t make some other Android device that dropped the Play Store in favor of something else. Now, that’ll be allowed. So if Samsung wanted to ship a Galaxy phone that only included the Galaxy Apps store, it could now do that in Europe.

This seems like the real news here, not the licensing fees.

Link: theverge.com/2018/10/16/17984074/google-eu-android…


Every Article About Huawei Phones Should Mention Their Egregious Design Rip-Offs

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-16 20:27

Three cameras, a big screen, blah blah blah. What I don’t get is why every single article about Huawei phones doesn’t mention their egregious design rip-offs. Right on their default home screen, they flat out copied the icons for Music and Health from Apple. Their “live photo” icon in their camera app is ripped-off from Apple, and on and on.

This cavalier attitude toward design rip-offs might fly in China, but it shouldn’t fly here in the West, and Huawei should be called out for it in every single article until they stop doing it.

Link: theverge.com/2018/10/16/17966752/huawei-mate-20-pro-cameras…


A Google Pixel 3 Review in the Age of Incremental Updates and Unrelenting Trauma

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-16 18:48

I just loved Mat Honan’s Pixel 3 review — it’s half review of this particular phone, and half condemnation of the outsized role phones play in our lives today.

Link: buzzfeednews.com/article/mathonan/google-pixel-3-review…


Facebook Will Use Data Collected From Its Portal in-Home Video Device to Target You With Ads

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-16 18:44

Kurt Wagner, writing for Recode:

Last Monday, we wrote: “No data collected through Portal — even call log data or app usage data, like the fact that you listened to Spotify — will be used to target users with ads on Facebook.”

We wrote that because that’s what we were told by Facebook executives.

But Facebook has since reached out to change its answer: Portal doesn’t have ads, but data about who you call and data about which apps you use on Portal can be used to target you with ads on other Facebook-owned properties.

If you trust Facebook with a camera and microphone in your house, I’d love to have you at my table in a poker game.

Link: recode.net/2018/10/16/17966102/facebook-portal-ad-targeting…


Apple Fixes Bagel Emoji

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-16 18:13

The original really is a crummy-looking bagel. I’m an everything bagel man, myself, but I can accept this plain one for the emoji.

Link: blog.emojipedia.org/apple-fixes-bagel-emoji/


The Magic Leap Con

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-16 17:10, modified at 17:11

Brian Merchant, reporting from Magic Leap’s developer conference for Gizmodo:

You know that weird sensation when it feels like everyone around you is participating in some mild mass hallucination, and you missed the dosing? The old ‘what am I possibly missing here’ phenomenon? That’s how I felt at LEAP a lot of the time, amidst crowds of people dropping buzzwords and acronym soup at light speed, and then again while I was reading reviews of the device afterwards — somehow, despite years of failing to deliver anything of substance, lots of the press is still in Leap’s thrall. […]

“This is more like the Apple Newton than the Apple iPhone,” one venture capitalist told me. It’s something that I thought about a lot as I moved from demo to demo, listened to keynotes, and sat in on developer meetings. Magic Leap has spent over half a decade and quite actually billions of dollars, and has not yet come up with something particularly compelling to do with its allegedly world-transforming computing system, besides shoot robots in the face.

I’d say this is unfair to the Newton. The Newton was a complete system. It worked, and it was good. Its experience was a cohesive whole. Its problem was that it was ahead of its time — we now know mobile devices need ubiquitous wireless networking, and when the Newton debuted, we didn’t even have Wi-Fi, let alone cellular data. Magic Leap isn’t even a cohesive whole.

Anyway, great piece by Merchant.

Link: gizmodo.com/the-magic-leap-con-1829716266


Paul Allen, Microsoft Co-Founder and Seahawks Owner, Dies at 65

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-15 23:53, modified on 2018-10-16 00:37

Rachel Lerman, reporting for The Seattle Times:

Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft and a prominent leader of both business and philanthropy in the Seattle area, has died at age 65 from complications of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Allen died Monday afternoon, according to his multifaceted holding company Vulcan Inc., just two weeks after announcing he had restarted treatment for the cancer that he was first treated for in 2009.

Allen co-founded Redmond tech giant Microsoft with childhood friend Bill Gates. After leaving the company, he turned his focus to a wide range of other business and scientific pursuits, which including founding the Allen Institute for Brain Science, and the real estate arm of Vulcan, which went on to build much of Amazon’s campus.

See also: Statement from Vulcan on behalf of the company and Allen’s family.

Link: seattletimes.com/seattle-news/obituaries/microsoft-co…


Morgan Knutson on Working as a Designer on the Google Plus Team

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-15 18:10, modified on 2018-10-16 00:41

Morgan Knutson on Twitter:

Now that Google+ has been shuttered, I should air my dirty laundry on how awful the project and exec team was.

I’m still pissed about the bait and switch they pulled by telling me I’d be working on Chrome, then putting me on this god forsaken piece of shit on day one.

Air some dirty laundry indeed. This whole thread is kind of nuts — you just don’t see former employees expose dysfunctional workplaces like this very often. Here’s a real eye-opener — teams across Google were effectively bribed to integrate Google Plus, regardless if such integration made sense for their products:

If your team, say on Gmail or Android, was to integrate Google+’s features then your team would be awarded a 1.5-3x multiplier on top of your yearly bonus. Your bonus was already something like 15% of your salary.

You read that correctly. A fuck ton of money to ruin the product you were building with bloated garbage that no one wanted. No one really liked this. People drank the kool-aid though, but mostly because it was green and made of paper.

Link: twitter.com/morganknutson/status/1049523067506966529


Adobe Previews Photoshop for iPad

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-15 17:58

Dami Lee, writing for the The Verge:

Adobe really wants you to know that the upcoming Photoshop CC for the iPad, which was announced today and is set to be released sometime in 2019, is “real Photoshop.”

The phrase “real Photoshop” came up several times during my week-long preview of an early version of the software giant’s long-awaited app. The underlying code is the same as desktop Photoshop, and although the interface has been rethought for the iPad, the same core tools line the edges of the screen.

The “touch modifier” button is a great idea. It’s a button in the corner that you can press and hold to toggle the current tool. E.g. if you’re using a paintbrush, you can press the touch modifier button to turn it into the eraser. Let go of the button and your tool is back to the paintbrush.

The video here is more interesting than the article — a bunch of artists from The Verge give their thoughts on using this for their work.

Link: theverge.com/2018/10/15/17969754/adobe-photoshop-apple-ipad…


The New Palm Is a Tiny Phone to Keep You Away From Your Phone

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-15 16:34

Dieter Bohn, writing at The Verge:

That’s the idea behind the new Palm phone. It’s a sidecar for your phone. You should almost think of it more as a thing to get instead of a connected smartwatch than as a second phone. In fact, thinking of it as a smartwatch is a good move since that’s precisely how Verizon (and only Verizon) is selling it: as an add-on for existing plans. You can’t just go buy the thing on its own or unlocked as your primary phone.

It’s cute, and I’m glad to see someone working on smaller phones, but a secondary phone seems like something no one wants. I wish they would have tried making a phone this small that could be your primary phone.

If you want to put your phone away at night and on weekends but still stay connected, get an Apple Watch.

Link: theverge.com/2018/10/15/17974850/new-palm-smartphone…


HyperJuice

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-13 01:35

My thanks to Hyper for sponsoring Daring Fireball this week to promote HyperJuice, their airline-safe 27,000 mAh battery pack with dual USB-C ports (100W and 60W) and one 18W USB-A port. All three ports can be used at once, so you can charge a 15-inch MacBook Pro, a smaller MacBook or iPad Pro, and an iPhone all once, all at high speeds.

Using the 100W USB-C input, you can recharge HyperJuice from empty to full in about one hour using a MacBook Pro’s charger. HyperJuice weighs only 550 grams and can fit in the palm of your hand. It’s a lot of power in a small package.

It’s a Kickstarter project that has already been funded (many times over). The campaign ends on Monday so act quickly — right now you can order HyperJuice for up to 50 percent off the expected retail price. Over 5,700 backers have already pledged over $1 million to get HyperJuice at these discounted prices.

Link: kickstarter.com/projects/hypershop/hyperjuice-worlds-most…


★ Sometimes It’s Better to Just Start Over With iCloud Photo Library Syncing

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-12 19:48, modified on 2018-10-16 00:45

Early this week I noticed that I wasn’t able to use the Instant Hotspot feature with my iPhone XS. That’s the feature where you can leave the cellular hotspot turned off in Settings, but enable it on-the-fly from a Mac when you connect via the Wi-Fi menu. These “Personal Hotspots” show up at the top of the list of available Wi-Fi networks, in their own special section of the menu. My Wi-Fi menu no longer listed my iPhone, only my iPad. If I went into the iPhone’s Settings app and enabled the Personal Hotspot manually — i.e. turned it on and left it on — my iPhone’s hotspot was listed as a regular Wi-Fi network on my Mac, and when I connected, it worked just fine. So the hotspot worked, but the magic Instant Hotspot feature wasn’t working.

I tried rebooting the Mac and iPhone, of course. No dice. I reset network settings on the phone. No dice. I then noticed that my iPhone’s name (Settings → General → About → Name) had been changed to “iPhone”. Not even “John’s iPhone”, which is the default when you set up a new iPhone. Just plain “iPhone”. I changed it back to my custom name. Rebooted the phone again. Still no Instant Hotspot. And then eventually the device name was changed back to “iPhone” again. Weird, right? This was all on the release version of iOS 12.0.1, by the way.

I had a trip to New York coming up, and wanted to fix this. I did some searching on the web and eventually stumbled on a thread that suggested signing out of iCloud and then signing back in. This makes some sense, because all of these Continuity features go through iCloud. So I did that on the iPhone, and, long story short, that seemed to fix the issue. After one more reboot of the phone, Instant Hotspot was working perfectly.

A side effect of signing out of and back into iCloud is that it seemed to reset my iPhone’s photo library sync state. It didn’t delete my photos, but once I was signed back in to iCloud, the Photos app was trying to re-upload my entire library (over 28,000 photos and 1,100 videos) back to iCloud. I don’t think it was actually uploading them — I think that’s just the word Photos uses to indicate what it’s doing — but rather checking each of the photos on the phone against each of the photos in my iCloud library.

It got through most of them fairly quickly, but the last 4,500 or so were effectively stuck. This process was proceeding really slowly. Profoundly slowly. I kept the phone plugged in last night and checked every hour, and it was only processing about 15 or 16 items per hour. I let it run overnight and it only moved from 4,183 remaining items to just over 4,000.

Effectively, I think what happens is that when you turn off iCloud Photo Library, it leaves all the photos and videos on your phone in your local library. When you turn iCloud Photo Library back on, it has no idea which of the items in your local iPhone library are duplicates of items in your iCloud library, and so it has to check them one by one. Whatever algorithm it’s using for this is slow as molasses.

Adam Engst wrote about a similar problem on the Mac earlier this year:

I was seeing some strange problems on my 27-inch iMac running macOS 10.13.3 High Sierra. Messages wasn’t getting or sending messages, Wi-Fi calling wasn’t working, and after upgrading to 10.13.3, I was unable to enable auto-unlock with my Apple Watch. To solve these problems, I turned iCloud off and back on. Despite the iCloud preference pane throwing an ominous error, the problems did indeed disappear.

However, there’s a nasty side effect of turning iCloud off and back on: iCloud Photo Library needs to re-upload all your photos. It does this in order to compare the library’s contents to the synchronization “truth” at iCloud. Fair enough, except that this process can take days, depending on the size of your Photos library and the speed of your Internet connection. Bad Apple! We don’t see that sort of poor performance with Dropbox or Google Drive, and this behavior is both unnecessary and driving people away from iCloud Photo Library.

That’s pretty much exactly what I was seeing on my iPhone.

What surprised me about this isn’t just that it’s so dreadfully slow, but that iCloud Photo Library has gotten amazingly good in the last few years. It’s not just very reliable, but very fast. I took a lot of photos using three different iPhones (my old iPhone X, and my review unit iPhones XS and XS Max) while writing my XS review last month. And I worked on the review on two different Macs. Every photo and video I took on every iPhone synced to all the other devices in a matter of seconds every single time. iCloud Photo Library made the whole process ridiculously easy.

Wiping and restoring my entire iPhone seemed like overkill when the only issue I was having was photo syncing. So my next idea was to delete all the photos from my phone and start over from scratch with iCloud Photo Library.

So here’s what I did, and it seems to have worked. First, I eyeballed all the recent photos and videos I’d shot using my iPhone and double-checked that they had all already been synced to iCloud. They were — I could see all my recent shots on my other devices.

Next, I disabled iCloud Photo Library on my iPhone again. You do that by going into the Apple ID section of Settings (where your name is shown at the very top of the root level) → iCloud → Photos and turned off everything. When it asked if I wanted to download a copy of the photos and videos from my iCloud library I declined.

Next, I wanted to delete every single photo and video from my iPhone. To my knowledge there is no easy way to do this on the iPhone itself. (There are a lot of tasks like this that are easy on the Mac thanks to Edit → Select All that are painfully tedious on iOS. Update: Here’s a clever way to use iOS 12’s Shortcuts app to delete all photos and videos from your Library.) I connected the iPhone to my Mac with a Lightning cable and used Image Capture to delete all photos and videos from my phone. Image Capture just treats the iPhone like a regular camera. Image Capture crashed three times during this process (I’m still running MacOS High Sierra 10.13.6, for what it’s worth), but after the fourth run the iPhone had no photos or videos left.

Then I re-enabled iCloud Photo Library on the phone, and about 20 minutes later, everything was back to normal. My iPhone reported exactly the same number of photos and videos in my library as on all my other devices. Most of those items are still just placeholders, even as I write this, but they’re filling in steadily — which is exactly how iCloud Photo Library works when you start syncing a large library to a new device.

So if you temporarily turn off iCloud Photo Library and turn it back on, it might be easier to just delete all your photos from your iPhone first, and let them all sync back from iCloud.


Latest Revision to ARM Instruction Set Includes Optimizations Just for JavaScript

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-12 02:18, modified at 05:33

Greg Parker:

More precisely: ARMv8.3 adds a new float-to-int instruction with errors and out-of-range values handled the way that JavaScript wants. The previous [instructions] to get JavaScript’s semantics were much slower. JavaScript’s numbers are double by default so it needs this conversion a lot.

Back when the iPhone XS first shipped, people noticed that it performed seemingly impossibly well on JavaScript benchmarks. E.g., David Heinemeier Hansson:

The iPhone XS is faster than an iMac Pro on the Speedometer 2.0 JavaScript benchmark. It’s the fastest device I’ve ever tested. Insane 45% jump over the iPhone 8/X chip. How does Apple do it?!

Apple touts the new A12 as “only” 15 percent faster than the A11 at CPU tasks, and JavaScript is mostly (entirely?) CPU-bound. These new instructions make that big a difference. The iMac Pro is a professional desktop and it’s getting beaten by a phone. [Update: Turns out JavaScriptCore (Safari’s JavaScript engine) doesn’t use this new instruction yet — it should make things even faster once it does but the A12 chip is getting these benchmark scores without this new instruction’s help.]

Everyone can enjoy the fact that ARMv8.3 makes JavaScript faster. Comp sci nerds can further enjoy the fact that we now have CPUs being optimized for a specific weird programming language and not the other way around.

Link: twitter.com/gparker/status/1047246359261106176


The Pixel 3: Everything You Need to Know About Google’s New Phone

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-11 22:27, modified on 2018-10-12 00:15

I watched the Made by Google keynote video, and was in New York yesterday for some hands-on time with their new products. Nicole Nguyen’s summary of the Pixel 3 is the best I’ve seen — really does capture just about everything you should know about it. She’s got a video of the new Call Screening feature in action — man oh man, do I want that feature on iOS. (I got to see a live demo as well.)

Link: buzzfeednews.com/article/nicolenguyen/pixel-3-price-google…


DuckDuckGo Search Growth

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-11 20:32, modified at 22:17

DuckDuckGo, on Twitter:

DuckDuckGo fun fact: it took us seven years to reach 10 million private searches in one day, then another two years to hit 20 million, and now less than a year later we’re at 30 million!

What a great little upstart DuckDuckGo is. I’ve been using DuckDuckGo as my primary web search engine for years now, and it keeps getting better.

Link: twitter.com/DuckDuckGo/status/1050382261978324992


Twitter Makes Moments Creation a Desktop Exclusive

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-10 15:49

Chance Miller, writing for 9to5Google:

Twitter has announced today that it is removing the ability to create Twitter Moments from its iOS and Android applications. The company says that making Moments will still be possible from the desktop web version of Twitter, while you’ll also still be able to view Moments from iOS and Android.

In a series of tweets this afternoon, Twitter explained that when features aren’t used very often, it removes them in an effort to focus on building other features. In this instance, support for creating Twitter Moments through the iOS and Android applications has been around since 2016, so it’s certainly noticeable to see Twitter pulling the plug on the capability.

If Moments isn’t getting enough use, sure, kill the feature. But kill it everywhere. It makes no sense to keep it but make it desktop-only. Mobile is where people use Twitter most.

Link: 9to5google.com/2018/10/09/twitter-moments-ios-app/


Wi-Fi Switches From Obscure Protocol Names to Simple Generation Numbers

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-09 18:59

Glenn Fleishman — who knows more about Wi-Fi than anyone I know — explains the whole “Wi-Fi 6” thing:

The Wi-Fi Alliance’s new numbering system focuses on generations of speed improvements but looks back only to 802.11n, which is a decade old. Given that 802.11a and 802.11b were approved at the same time, implicitly calling them Wi-Fi 1 and Wi-Fi 2, and extending Wi-Fi 3 to 802.11g, isn’t quite right. But we anticipate people will do it anyway.

Simplifying device compatibility through better naming seems like a clever idea that’s long overdue, and one that should help people who have no interest in technical standards arcana. The next time someone asks me what Wi-Fi router they should buy, I look forward to saying, “Wi-Fi 6. Look for it on the box.”

Link: tidbits.com/2018/10/05/wi-fi-switches-from-obscure-protocol…


Not Voting Doubles the Value of Someone Else’s Vote

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-09 18:49, modified at 19:04

David Foster Wallace, back in 2000:

If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible psychological reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.

Jason Kottke:

Please check your registration status and register to vote… it takes two minutes. Voter registration deadlines are fast approaching in many US states — there are deadlines tomorrow in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas.

Kottke wrote that yesterday, so those registration deadlines are today. I don’t care who you want to vote for, I implore you to register and vote. And if you think you are registered, double-check. It really does just take a minute.

Link: kottke.org/18/10/not-voting-doubles-the-value-of-someone…


Named Source in ‘The Big Hack’ Has Doubts About the Story

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-09 18:41, modified at 23:22

Hardware security researcher Joe Fitzpatrick was one of the very few named sources in Bloomberg’s blockbuster “The Big Hack” story. He provided only background information on the potential of hardware exploits in general — he claimed no knowledge of this specific case. On Patrick Gray’s Risky Business (great name) podcast, he expresses serious unease with the story Bloomberg published. The whole episode is worth a listen, but here’s partial transcript:

Fitzpatrick: But what really struck me is that like all the details that were even remotely technical, seemed like they had been lifted from from the conversations I had about theoretically how hardware implants work and how the devices I was making to show off at Black Hat two years ago worked.

Gray: So I guess what you are saying here is, the report, I mean all of the technical details of the report, you’d covered that ground with that reporter.

Fitzpatrick: Yeah, I had conversations about all the technical details and various contexts. But there are a lot of filters that happen, you know? When I explain hardware things even to software people, I don’t expect people to get it the first time and I don’t expect people to be able to describe it accurately all the time. So there is definitely a lot of telephone exchange happening

Gray: OK but why did that make you feel uneasy? Could it be the case that you know that the technical things you told him lined up perfectly with the technical things that some of these 17 of the anonymous sources told him?

Fitzpatrick: You know, I’m just Joe. I do this stuff solo. I am building hardware implants for phones to show off at conferences. I’m not a pro at building hardware implants. I don’t work for any nation or any state building and shipping these as products. I feel like I have a good grasp at what’s possible and what’s available and how to do it just from my practice. But it was surprising to me that in a scenario where I would describe these things and then he would go and confirm these and 100 percent of what I described was confirmed by sources.

Gray: And that’s what he was telling you through this process?

Fitzpatrick: That’s what I read in the article.

Gray: OK, right. You find that a bit strange? That every single thing you seem to tell him, or a large proportion of what you told him, was then confirmed by his other sources.

Fitzpatrick: Yeah, basically. Either I have excellent foresight or something else is going on.

I’m going to go with “something else is going on”.

Link: risky.biz/RB517_feature/


‘Facebook Unveils the Portal, a Video Chat Camera for the People Who Still Trust Facebook’

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-09 00:36

Geoffrey Fowler, writing for The Washington Post:

The Portal is a sleek new video camera and screen that makes chats with family and friends look great.

It has just one problem: It was made by Mark Zuckerberg.

On Monday, Facebook unveiled the $200 Portal, the first-ever consumer hardware from the world’s largest social network. The toaster-size gadget, along with a larger $350 version called Portal+, is a cross between a smart speaker, video camera and digital photo frame. But at a time when CEO Zuckerberg’s privacy and security decisions are a matter of congressional inquiry, how many people will trust one in their living room?

Say what you want about putting any of these always-on listening devices in your home, anyone who buys one of these — which doesn’t just listen but has a camera too — is nuts. Is there any company you’d trust less than Facebook with this?

Link: washingtonpost.com/amphtml/technology/2018/10/08/facebook…


Rich Mogull on How the Apple Watch Series 4 Will and Won’t Save Lives

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-08 21:13, modified at 23:44

Rich Mogull — a trained paramedic, in addition to being a terrific information security expert — writing at TidBITS:

Even if the Apple Watch Series 4’s health-monitoring features are imperfect, even if they detect only a subset of issues and incidents, wearing one will allow some people to live longer and healthier lives.

Now that Apple has put its stake in the ground, I expect a few advancements moving forward.

It sounds corny to say that a new digital watch is going to save lives, but I think it’s undeniably true here. Dozens, hundreds, thousands? I don’t know the number. But some number of people are going to get help for heart problems who otherwise would not have, and another number of people are going to get EMS help after a bad fall who otherwise would not have.

After thinking about it for a few weeks, though, my thoughts turn to the long run, not the near future. This is clearly just a first step. 80 years ago, a family in the U.S. likely had one audio system — a big cabinet-sized AM radio in their living room. How many “audio” devices does a typical family own today? Dozens, and they’re with us all day every day in the form of phones and headphones. In a few decades, we’re all going to be monitored by connected devices all day every day. I think it’s likely such devices will be able to identify things like heart attacks and strokes before they happen. Apple Watch is the first serious step in that direction.

Link: tidbits.com/2018/10/03/im-a-paramedic-heres-how-the-apple…


Apple Tells Congress It Found No Signs of Hacking Attack

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-08 20:31, modified on 2018-10-09 18:42

Reuters:

Apple Vice President for Information Security George Stathakopoulos wrote in a letter to the Senate and House commerce committees that the company had repeatedly investigated and found no evidence for the main points in a Bloomberg Businessweek article published on Thursday, including that chips inside servers sold to Apple by Super Micro Computer Inc (SMCI.PK) allowed for backdoor transmissions to China.

“Apple’s proprietary security tools are continuously scanning for precisely this kind of outbound traffic, as it indicates the existence of malware or other malicious activity. Nothing was ever found,” he wrote in the letter provided to Reuters.

Update: Here’s the entire letter.

Link: reuters.com/article/us-china-cyber-apple/apple-tells…


[Sponsor] HyperJuice: World's Most Powerful USB-C Battery Pack

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-08 22:50

HyperJuice is an airline safe 27,000 mAh battery pack with dual USB-C (100W + 60W) + 18W USB-A ports that can quick-charge a MacBook Pro, iPad Pro, and iPhone all at the same time.

Using 100W USB-C input, you can recharge HyperJuice from empty to full charge in about one hour.

Despite its prowess, HyperJuice is ultra-portable, weighs only 550g and can fit in the palm of your hand.

Get up to 50% off HyperJuice on Kickstarter today. Hurry! This is the last week to enjoy this offer. Over 4000 backers have already pledged over $700,000 to get the HyperJuice for up to 50% off.

Link: kickstarter.com/projects/hypershop/hyperjuice-worlds-most…


Statement From DHS Press Secretary on Recent Media Reports of Potential Supply Chain Compromise

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-07 18:53, modified at 19:53

Official statement from DHS:

The Department of Homeland Security is aware of the media reports of a technology supply chain compromise. Like our partners in the UK, the National Cyber Security Centre, at this time we have no reason to doubt the statements from the companies named in the story. Information and communications technology supply chain security is core to DHS’s cybersecurity mission and we are committed to the security and integrity of the technology on which Americans and others around the world increasingly rely. Just this month — National Cybersecurity Awareness Month — we launched several government-industry initiatives to develop near- and long-term solutions to manage risk posed by the complex challenges of increasingly global supply chains. These initiatives will build on existing partnerships with a wide range of technology companies to strengthen our nation’s collective cybersecurity and risk management efforts.

For me, having the current U.S. government weighing in publicly on this issue does not fill me with any sense of confidence or reassurance on either side of this story.

But, still: Bloomberg’s Big Hack story should eventually be fully-corroborated, if true. According to their report, there are thousands of compromised servers out there. If there are, security experts will eventually identify these rogue chips and document them.

And whatever you think of a statement from DHS, from what I’ve heard, this is only beginning. Apple is not letting this go.

Link: dhs.gov/news/2018/10/06/statement-dhs-press-secretary…


Skillshare

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-06 17:53, modified at 18:33

My thanks to Skillshare for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. With over 4 million members and more than 20,000 classes, Skillshare is basically Netflix for online learning. Interested in web development or data science? How about UX design or SEO? Mobile photography, filmmaking, creative writing, even coffee brewing? Skillshare truly has it all.

And it’s all professionally produced — well-shot, well-edited, high-quality audio. The production quality is just so much better than what you expect from online video. I’ll repeat a personal recommendation: “Logo Design With Aaron Draplin”. Yeah, that Aaron Draplin — cofounder of Field Notes and designer/raconteur extraordinaire. He’s one of my favorite designers in the world, a generous teacher, and fantastically compelling on camera. Get the free demo and watch Draplin’s course. (Draplin has a bunch of great courses on Skillshare already.)

And for this week only, Skillshare is offering the first 1,000 Daring Fireball readers two free months of Skillshare Premium.

Link: skl.sh/fireball4


Banksy Painting Self-Destructs After Fetching $1.4 Million at Sotheby’s

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-06 17:09


Buzzfeed: ‘Apple Insiders Say Nobody Internally Knows What’s Going on With Bloomberg’s China Hack Story’

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-06 00:54, modified at 01:17

John Paczkowski and Charlie Warzel, reporting for BuzzFeed:

“We tried to figure out if there was anything, anything, that transpired that’s even remotely close to this,” a senior Apple security executive told BuzzFeed News. “We found nothing.”

A senior security engineer directly involved in Apple’s internal investigation described it as “endoscopic”, noting they had never seen a chip like the one described in the story, let alone found one. “I don’t know if something like this even exists”, this person said, noting that Apple was not provided with a malicious chip or motherboard to examine. “We were given nothing. No hardware. No chips. No emails.”

Equally puzzling to Apple execs is the assertion that it was party to an FBI investigation — Bloomberg wrote that Apple “reported the incident to the FBI.” A senior Apple legal official told BuzzFeed News the company had not contacted the FBI, nor had it been contacted by the FBI, the CIA, the NSA or any government agency in regards to the incidents described in the Bloomberg report. This person’s purview and responsibilities are of such a high level that it’s unlikely they would not have been aware of government outreach.

This is an extraordinary stalemate. There’s no equivocation in Apple’s response, but Bloomberg stands by their story. Keep in mind, Bloomberg isn’t some fringe publication — they’re a very well-respected news organization with a lot at stake here. They’ve published some dubious stuff about Apple in the past — this piece last year claiming Apple “let suppliers reduce accuracy of the phone’s Face ID system to speed up production” comes to mind — but that’s just gossip. This “Big Hack” story isn’t gossip; it’s as serious as it gets. But Apple, officially, and now from multiple unnamed senior executives and engineers in this BuzzFeed story, are saying flat out that at least as pertains to them, it did not happen. (Keep in mind too that every single source in Bloomberg’s story was unnamed.)

Link: buzzfeednews.com/article/johnpaczkowski/apple-china-hacking…


Customizing the Infograph Face on Apple Watch Series 4

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-05 13:54

Zac Hall, writing at 9to5Mac:

Infograph can show up to eight complications, but that doesn’t mean it must — even if the default version is fully loaded. For me, stripping Infograph down to just the clock is a great starting place.

This requires a lot of Digital Crown scrolling on the Apple Watch to set each complication slot to empty and may be faster on the Watch app for iPhone. The end result is a simple and attractive clock without all of the noise of complications recommended for you.

I love this advice — strip it down to nothing and start adding complications. Hall has some great tips on third-party corner complications for Infograph. (You wouldn’t think I’d need to worry about humidity in Philadelphia in October, but it’s been muggy as hell all this week.)

Link: 9to5mac.com/2018/10/04/customizing-infograph-apple-watch…


Apple Newsroom: ‘What Businessweek Got Wrong About Apple’

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-04 20:10, modified on 2018-10-10 20:49

Apple Newsroom has just published an even stronger denial of Bloomberg Businessweek’s “The Big Hack” story:

Apple has always believed in being transparent about the ways we handle and protect data. If there were ever such an event as Bloomberg News has claimed, we would be forthcoming about it and we would work closely with law enforcement. Apple engineers conduct regular and rigorous security screenings to ensure that our systems are safe. We know that security is an endless race and that’s why we constantly fortify our systems against increasingly sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals who want to steal our data. […]

Finally, in response to questions we have received from other news organizations since Businessweek published its story, we are not under any kind of gag order or other confidentiality obligations.

They’re defending both the security of their data center servers and the integrity of their public statements.

In my earlier piece on this story, I forgot to mention one particularly odd tidbit in Bloomberg’s reporting. Bloomberg wrote (italics added):

Three senior insiders at Apple say that in the summer of 2015, it, too, found malicious chips on Supermicro motherboards. Apple severed ties with Supermicro the following year, for what it described as unrelated reasons. […] Apple made its discovery of suspicious chips inside Supermicro servers around May 2015, after detecting odd network activity and firmware problems, according to a person familiar with the timeline. Two of the senior Apple insiders say the company reported the incident to the FBI but kept details about what it had detected tightly held, even internally.

What sense does it make that Apple discovered a profound security problem in Super Micro motherboards in May 2015, so serious that the company reported it to the FBI, but then didn’t sever ties with Supermicro until at least eight months later? That timeline makes no sense.

Also, what exactly is a “senior insider”? I’ve never seen that phrase before. An odd attribution. This Google search only finds four hits in Bloomberg’s archive — once in 1996, once in 1998, once in January 2018, and this story today. (And Google finds no hits at all for the phrase in their archive of businessweek.com.)

Link: apple.com/newsroom/2018/10/what-businessweek-got-wrong…


★ Bloomberg’s ‘The Big Hack’

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-04 18:07, modified on 2018-10-10 20:49

Bloomberg Businessweek today published an absolutely incredible story alleging that Chinese intelligence compromised thousands of data center servers by infiltrating the supply chain to insert hard-to-detect rogue chips on motherboards from a company named Supermicro. The entire report, by Jordan Robertson and Michael Riley, is worth reading in full.

Bloomberg alleges that Apple and Amazon were both among the companies that installed the compromised hardware. Apple and Amazon both vehemently deny the report. Someone is either wrong or lying. This cannot all be true.

From Bloomberg’s report, regarding Amazon:

Nested on the servers’ motherboards, the testers found a tiny microchip, not much bigger than a grain of rice, that wasn’t part of the boards’ original design. Amazon reported the discovery to U.S. authorities, sending a shudder through the intelligence community. Elemental’s servers could be found in Department of Defense data centers, the CIA’s drone operations, and the onboard networks of Navy warships. And Elemental was just one of hundreds of Supermicro customers.

Regarding Apple:

Apple was an important Supermicro customer and had planned to order more than 30,000 of its servers in two years for a new global network of data centers. Three senior insiders at Apple say that in the summer of 2015, it, too, found malicious chips on Supermicro motherboards. Apple severed ties with Supermicro the following year, for what it described as unrelated reasons.

And regarding both companies’ denials:

The companies’ denials are countered by six current and former senior national security officials, who — in conversations that began during the Obama administration and continued under the Trump administration — detailed the discovery of the chips and the government’s investigation. One of those officials and two people inside AWS provided extensive information on how the attack played out at Elemental and Amazon; the official and one of the insiders also described Amazon’s cooperation with the government investigation. In addition to the three Apple insiders, four of the six U.S. officials confirmed that Apple was a victim.

The companies’ denials are seemingly unequivocal, however. Apple’s statement to Bloomberg:

Over the course of the past year, Bloomberg has contacted us multiple times with claims, sometimes vague and sometimes elaborate, of an alleged security incident at Apple. Each time, we have conducted rigorous internal investigations based on their inquiries and each time we have found absolutely no evidence to support any of them. We have repeatedly and consistently offered factual responses, on the record, refuting virtually every aspect of Bloomberg’s story relating to Apple.

On this we can be very clear: Apple has never found malicious chips, “hardware manipulations” or vulnerabilities purposely planted in any server. Apple never had any contact with the FBI or any other agency about such an incident. We are not aware of any investigation by the FBI, nor are our contacts in law enforcement.

That statement is credited only to “Apple”, so presumably it was written by Apple PR. Amazon issued a similar statement to Bloomberg, but later published a full response, signed by Steve Schmidt, the company’s chief information security officer. Schmidt is adamant and clear:

There are so many inaccuracies in this article as it relates to Amazon that they’re hard to count. We will name only a few of them here. First, when Amazon was considering acquiring Elemental, we did a lot of due diligence with our own security team, and also commissioned a single external security company to do a security assessment for us as well. That report did not identify any issues with modified chips or hardware. As is typical with most of these audits, it offered some recommended areas to remediate, and we fixed all critical issues before the acquisition closed. This was the sole external security report commissioned. Bloomberg has admittedly never seen our commissioned security report nor any other (and refused to share any details of any purported other report with us).

The article also claims that after learning of hardware modifications and malicious chips in Elemental servers, we conducted a network-wide audit of SuperMicro motherboards and discovered the malicious chips in a Beijing data center. This claim is similarly untrue. The first and most obvious reason is that we never found modified hardware or malicious chips in Elemental servers. Aside from that, we never found modified hardware or malicious chips in servers in any of our data centers.

I see no way around it: either Bloomberg’s report is significantly wrong, at least as pertains to Amazon and Apple, or Apple and Amazon have issued blatantly false denials. You can, perhaps, chalk up Apple’s denial to it being written by Apple PR. I don’t think this would happen, but hypothetically this issue could be deemed so sensitive — either within the company or as a national security issue — that the people at Apple with knowledge of the situation lied to Apple PR. But in my experience, Apple PR does not lie. Do they spin the truth in ways that favor the company? Of course. That’s their job. But they don’t lie, because they understand that one of Apple’s key assets is its credibility. They’d say nothing before they’d lie.

Schmidt signing his name to Amazon’s response is more telling. Presumably no one at Amazon would be more familiar with the details of such a breach than Schmidt.

One way or the other, there is more to come on this story, and the credibility of either Bloomberg, or Apple and Amazon, is going to take a significant hit. Currently those are the two most valuable publicly-traded companies in the world.

A few other notable tidbits. From Bloomberg’s report:

One government official says China’s goal was long-term access to high-value corporate secrets and sensitive government networks. No consumer data is known to have been stolen.

And then this from Amazon’s response:

Because Elemental appliances are not designed to be exposed to the public internet, our customers are protected against the vulnerability by default.

I do not understand how, if these servers are not exposed to the public internet, they could “phone home” to Chinese servers outside the data centers.

Technical details aside, the whole central thesis of the story rings true — China cannot be trusted as a state actor, but the entire technology industry is dependent upon the Chinese supply chain. It is completely credible that the managers of Chinese factories are susceptible to bribes and threats of “inspections” that would shut down their plants. From the Bloomberg report:

Over the decades, the security of the supply chain became an article of faith despite repeated warnings by Western officials. A belief formed that China was unlikely to jeopardize its position as workshop to the world by letting its spies meddle in its factories. That left the decision about where to build commercial systems resting largely on where capacity was greatest and cheapest. “You end up with a classic Satan’s bargain”, one former U.S. official says. “You can have less supply than you want and guarantee it’s secure, or you can have the supply you need, but there will be risk. Every organization has accepted the second proposition.”

Lastly, whatever the veracity of the report, Bloomberg deserves kudos for this sentence:

Two of Elemental’s biggest early clients were the Mormon church, which used the technology to beam sermons to congregations around the world, and the adult film industry, which did not.

Update: Apple has issued a stronger denial of Bloomberg’s report.


LG’s New Watch Has Mechanical Hands That Cover the Display

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-03 23:28

You can push a button to make the hands go horizontal. It looks like a swimmer doing the butterfly stroke. You have to see the video to believe it. Good lord. Of all the days for me to post about small issues with Apple Watch face design.

Link: twitter.com/greengart/status/1047611907140722689


Jason Snell: ‘Why Are Apple Watch Faces Such a Mess?’

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-03 21:13

Jason Snell, writing at Macworld:

It takes time to get a new operating system up and running. With watchOS 5, it feels like Apple has finally addressed most of the rough edges. Apps are more powerful; devices are more capable of acting on their own without the aid of an iPhone. I can understand why other features trumped the prioritization of watch faces, but it’s time. Apple needs to really revisit how it approaches watch faces.

Since the day the Apple Watch was announced, developers have clamored for the opportunity to design custom watch faces. That may never happen — there are plenty of reasons for Apple to consider the face designs sacred and something the company must control itself. But if Apple insists on having a monopoly on face design, it’s incumbent on the company to be a better steward of those faces.

I’ve been splitting my Apple Watch time the last week or so between my Series 4 review unit and my personal Series 3, upgraded to WatchOS 5. I’m more convinced than ever that what I wrote in my Series 4 review is true: the new Series 4 faces only look exactly right on the Series 4 watch, and the old watch faces only look exactly right on the older watches. And nothing brings these issues to light better than the complication situation.

I won’t say any of the faces look bad on any of the watches. Just that they don’t look exactly right — the difference between an expertly tailored jacket and one that comes off the rack. When it comes to watch faces, “good” isn’t good enough. Every element on a watch face ought to be perfect.

Link: macworld.com/article/3309450/apple-watch/why-are-apple…


Lego Scale Model of Apple Park

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-03 19:01

Insanely detailed model by Spencer Rezkalla.

Link: flickr.com/photos/51130204@N04/sets/72157700052292491/with…


Wi-Fi Now Has Version Numbers, and Wi-Fi 6 Comes Out Next Year

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-03 17:03

Jacob Kastrenakes, writing for The Verge:

In the past, Wi-Fi versions were identified by a letter or a pair of letters that referred to a wireless standard. The current version is 802.11ac, but before that, we had 802.11n, 802.11g, 802.11a, and 802.11b. It was not comprehensible, so the Wi-Fi Alliance — the group that stewards the implementation of Wi-Fi — is changing it.

All of those convoluted codenames are being changed. So instead of the current Wi-Fi being called 802.11ac, it’ll be called Wi-Fi 5 (because it’s the fifth version). It’ll probably make more sense this way, starting with the first version of Wi-Fi, 802.11b:

  • Wi-Fi 1: 802.11b (1999)
  • Wi-Fi 2: 802.11a (1999)
  • Wi-Fi 3: 802.11g (2003)
  • Wi-Fi 4: 802.11n (2009)
  • Wi-Fi 5: 802.11ac (2014)

What a great change — I love it. Not only were those letters inscrutable, they didn’t even go in alphabetical order.

Link: theverge.com/2018/10/3/17926212/wifi-6-version-numbers…


Nooses, Rotting Teeth, and Neglect: Inspectors Find Dismal Conditions at For-Profit California Immigration Jail

Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-03 16:39

Nick Miroff, reporting for The Washington Post:

Homeland Security inspectors who made an unannounced visit to a private, for-profit immigration jail in California in May found major violations of federal detention standards, including cells with nooses dangling from air vents, detainees losing teeth from lack of dental care and one disabled inmate left alone in a wheelchair for nine days. […]

One dentist told inspectors that there was no time for cleanings or fillings, and that it was up to inmates to take care of their own oral hygiene despite a lack of supplies. “The dentist dismissed the necessity of fillings if patients commit to brushing and flossing,” the report said. “Floss is only available through detainee commissary accounts, but the dentist suggested detainees could use string from their socks to floss if they were dedicated to dental hygiene.”

DHS inspectors reviewed all requests for dental fillings since 2014 and found that although the jail’s two dentists identified cavities and placed detainees on a waiting list for fillings, no detainees received them. “One detainee we interviewed reported having multiple teeth fall out while waiting more than 2 years for cavities to be filled,” the report said.

ICE didn’t even exist until after 9/11. They were founded in response to terrorist attacks. Letting these people suffer in jail has nothing to do with fighting terrorism. These conditions would be deplorable anywhere in the world, but to have this going on in the United States of America is just astounding.

Link: washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nooses-rotting…


★ The Great DF Random Slowdown Should Be Over

Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-20 23:33, modified on 2018-09-21 22:23

This week, DF has seemed incredibly slow for some people, sometimes. Here’s a Twitter search for tweets to me with the word “slow” this week. This was killing me, because I pride myself on Daring Fireball being a fast-loading website, and because this was a pretty big week content-wise.

It was not my server, and had nothing to do with higher levels of traffic from my iPhone XS and Series 4 Apple Watch reviews. When DF itself is slow — which happens rarely but does happen — you almost always see DF’s trademark #4a525a slate gray background first, then the elements of the page slowly fill in. If you experienced slowness this week, you probably just saw a white background in your browser tab, and then all of a sudden the whole thing filled in. This sometimes took 30-60 seconds. Long story short, it was taking that long for the initial request to even get to my server; once it did, everything after that was as fast as usual. I’m still not sure what exactly was causing this, but I’ve worked around it by having Cloudflare act as an HTTP/S proxy for daringfireball.net. If any of you continue to see slow page loads, let me know.

Second, there was an issue where requests using the “www” prefix over HTTPS were triggering an SSL certificate warning from Safari that the site might not be legitimate. Only when using the “www” prefix, and only over HTTPS, not HTTP, because it was an SSL problem. I hadn’t changed anything on my end, but the latest version of Safari has tightened its SSL security. (Which is good.) I’ve never made use of a “www” prefix at Daring Fireball — I hate that prefix. But you have to support it, because so many people type it out of habit. So I’ve always redirected requests for “www.daringfireball.net” to “daringfireball.net”. The problem is, because I don’t actually use the “www” domain, I never properly supported it in my SSL certificate. Until a few weeks ago, Safari would just let you get redirected; now it doesn’t.

I solved this problem using Cloudflare too. In fact both problems were fixed the same way — by clicking one button in Cloudflare’s list of my DNS entries to allow Cloudflare to proxy HTTP/S requests. I switched to Cloudflare a year or so ago for managing my DNS, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s like magic. DNS can seem like voodoo (at least to me) but Cloudflare makes it easy. I don’t even pay them — I’m just using their free basic account level. This is not a sponsorship or ad — I just had to thank them for their wonderful service.

Anyway, I want to apologize to any of you affected by either of these issues.


★ Apple Watch Series 4

Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-19 17:39, modified on 2018-09-22 23:44

Tim Cook opened the Apple Watch segment of the event last week by stating that Apple Watch wasn’t just the number one smart watch in the world (come on, that’s obvious), but that “it’s the number one watch, period”, standing in front of a slide with a big “#1” on it.

Number one by what measure, though? They didn’t say, which I find irksome. Presumably Cook meant number one by revenue. At last year’s event he noted revenue specifically, mentioning that Apple Watch had surpassed Rolex.

Apple has several products that lead their markets in revenue or profit. What makes Apple Watch different from every other product the company makes, though, is a measure near and dear to the company’s soul by which they cannot claim Apple Watch to be number one: nicest.

Nicest is inherently subjective, of course. But iPhone, iPad, MacBook, and iMac can all reasonably be argued to be the nicest products in their respective markets. You can definitely add Apple Watch to that list if you limit the comparison to other smart watches and fitness trackers. I would say hands-down, no question, Apple Watch is the nicest of those. But that’s like saying you’re the richest person in the poorhouse. And Tim Cook is the one who stood on stage boasting about Apple Watch’s position among all watches.

Traditional watches are Apple’s competition for nicest watch. And Apple Watch just isn’t there. It’s not even close. Don’t get me wrong — Apple Watch is nice, and always been. I think that’s ultimately what defined the minimum viable product for the original Apple Watch. Apple could have made something that did what the original Apple Watch did years earlier, I’m sure. But it wouldn’t have been nice enough. But as nice as Apple Watch has always been, there are many watches that are nicer. And that makes Apple Watch unique in the history of the company. What successful product has Apple ever made that wasn’t at least arguably the nicest in its category? Apple Watch is the first.

Apple Watch is a hit despite this because it’s such a great product. People love it for what it does, how it works, and for how nice it actually is. Apple Watch is thriving despite being far from the nicest watch because all of the watches that are nicer do so much less. That’s the flip side of Apple Watch’s anomalous status in Apple history. Apple’s products, especially new ones, generally do less than their competitors. Apple Watch is taking over the watch industry because it does so very, very much more than traditional watches could ever do.

A thought experiment that practically proves my argument: Most of the watches that are nicer than Apple Watch only tell the time and date. Often not even the date. If Apple Watch had been exactly as we know it — same shape, same materials, same display, and the same prices — but functionally did nothing other than show the date and time, would Apple Watch be the number one watch in the world? By any measure? No. It would be absurd. Conversely, if Apple were to actually make a watch that only displayed the time and date, it wouldn’t look anything like Apple Watch as we know it. It would be so much nicer. It probably would be one of the nicest watches in the world.

The luxury watch market is in large part about niceness. No one buys a Rolex or Omega or Panerai or Patek Philippe because of its timekeeping accuracy. They buy them because of how nice they are. Jony Ive is a watch guy. He knows this. Phil Schiller is a watch guy. Apple is full of people who love traditional watches, because they appreciate craftsmanship, attention to detail, typography. Nice watches are all about design down to the smallest details.

Of course it bothers Apple that Apple Watch can’t do all the things that it does and fit into one of the nicest watch cases in the world. At some level it must kill them. They’re winning, but they don’t just want to win the race. They want to win the race while driving the best-looking car on the track.

I’ve known this ever since I saw Apple Watch introduced in September 2014, but I was never able to put my finger precisely on niceness as the key to understanding Apple’s otherwise somewhat baffling approach to the product. Wearing an Apple Watch Series 4 for a few days, and taking time to consider why I’m so fond of it, prompted a moment of clarity.

An appreciation of nice watches, and an honest reckoning of where Apple Watch stands in that regard, informs everything about the entire product, including, I think, the absurdly expensive 18-karat gold Edition models in the original lineup. The fundamental problem Apple faces is that the smallest possible computer they can make — today — to do what they want Apple Watch to do isn’t small enough to fit it into a watch case of size and shape that would be considered among the very nicest in the world.

Every other aspect of Apple Watch other than the case is, in fact, world-class nice. The default watch strap, the Sport Band, is absolutely wonderful. Jony Ive’s close friend Marc Newson is renowned in the watch world. Ive brought Newson to Apple to make an even better version of his 1996 Ikepod strap. You know what’s not nice about most watch straps? The extra bit of strap that sticks out after you buckle it. Newson’s insight, that it could be neatly tucked under the other side of the strap, is simply genius. Tens of millions of Apple Watch owners now enjoy this design. And that’s just the default strap — Apple Watch’s well-liquor straps are far better-designed than the top-shelf-liquor straps from many luxury watchmakers.

Apple’s higher-end bands put most Swiss watch companies to shame. Apple’s link bracelet is extremely nice, and features a way to add and remove links to adjust the size that requires nothing more than your thumbnail. No one else has a link bracelet like this. The whole idea of easily swappable bands and straps — using nothing more than your thumbnail — is an astounding innovation. It’s a key driver of Apple Watch’s success as a watch. People have been wearing wristwatches for over 100 years, but until Apple entered the market no company had ever thought to design a connector system that would allow for seasonal new straps and bands. It helps make Apple Watch fun for owners and helps make money for Apple.

Apple didn’t start with one band and slowly grow its lineup over time. They entered on day one with an incredible strap lineup. No one would say Apple Watch debuted as the nicest watch in the world. But you can argue it debuted with the nicest lineup of straps.

Apple has long been guided by a good/better/best approach to its product lines. But the stainless steel Apple Watches are identical functionally to the aluminum models. They cost hundreds of dollars more and the only thing that makes them better is that they’re made from nicer materials. That makes no sense at all in the world of computers. It makes perfect sense in the world of watches. I think Jony Ive made those gold Edition models and drove his team to create such a wide lineup of straps on day one to send a message. Ive owns and admits to still occasionally wearing a few traditional watches (his favorite: a stainless steel Patek Philippe Nautilus1) and he wanted to prove that he wasn’t lowering his standards one iota, and that there’s no aspect of the watch industry — from working with precious metals to designing a perfect deployment clasp — that Apple couldn’t do at the highest level.


The Series 4 Apple Watch is defined by being a nicer watch. The upcoming ECG feature is deservedly headline grabbing, but I wouldn’t even consider buying a Series 4 to replace my year-old Series 3 if it still looked the same. In fact, I would consider buying a Series 4 even if the only changes from Series 3 were the new case size and new display and watch faces. It’s that much nicer.

Apple has this diagram on their nifty Apple Watch Comparison page, where the Series 4 and 3 watches are reduced to icons to convey their relative dimensions:

Apple's illustration comparing case thickness of Series 4 and Series 3.

That the Series 4 watch is rendered so much thinner than the Series 3 even though the stated difference in thickness is only 0.7 mm may strike you as shameless marketing exaggeration. But after wearing and looking at a Series 4 watch on my wrist all week, I’d say this illustration conveys the difference completely accurately, and far better than any side-by-side photograph could. It really feels that much thinner.

For watches, 0.7 mm is significant. The Series 4 Apple Watch sits better on the wrist. It doesn’t look nearly so chubby.

My review unit is a 44 mm model in stainless steel with the new gold finish. It’s smaller by volume than the Series 0-3 42 mm models, but larger by surface area. And the display simply seems immense. It makes me wonder if I might not prefer the new 40 mm size, the display of which is slightly larger than the display of the old 42 mm models. I would encourage anyone on the fence about which size to get to go to a store and try them on before deciding. It’s not that I think this 44 mm model is too big for me, it’s that I wonder if the 40 mm model would be big enough.

Apple provided me with the gold Milanese Loop as well. I wore it around the house for a day. It’s very nice, but not my style. It is interesting that there is no Link Bracelet in gold. That means the Milanese Loop is the only matching metal band for the gold watch.

The gold is a very interesting color. It really has quite a different effect depending on which strap you wear with it. I’ve been wearing it with a black Nike Sport band (they call the color Anthracite), and I’m amazed at how much I like the combination. I don’t generally like gold, but I do like this gold with a black strap. This watch looks really good with a black strap.

The gold finish is applied using a physical vapor deposition (PVD) process. Apple tells me this process is very similar to the process that applies the diamond like coating (DLC) to the space black watches. One thing about both of these processes is that they take several hours to apply per watch, according to Apple. That’s why the space black stainless steel models have always been more expensive. But the gold Apple Watch models cost the same as the regular stainless steel models ($699 for 40 mm, $749 for 44 mm). And, in a nice touch, the space black models are now the same price as regular stainless steel as well.

The Series 4 Digital Crown is clearly all new. Apple — during the event and in their marketing materials — is trumpeting the Crown’s new haptic feedback. It “clicks” as you spin it, and the clicks correspond to whatever it is you’re scrolling. This is a very nice touch. But the best thing about the new Digital Crown is how freely it spins. There’s almost no friction at all. It makes the Crown on my Series 3 watch feel like it’s rusty. The feel of this new Digital Crown is so much nicer than the old ones.

I’ve long believed through personal experience that haptic taps felt noticeably better on aluminum Apple Watch models than the stainless steel ones. With my Series 0 space black watch, taps were so faint I often didn’t feel them. It makes sense that it would be more difficult to provide good haptic feedback through a more rigid material. But in way it’s counterintuitive that the more expensive models would provide a worse experience for one of Apple Watch’s key features. The taps on this Series 4 watch are the best I’ve ever felt on any Apple Watch. They’re strong but not too strong. The Series 4 pages at Apple.com don’t seem to even mention the Taptic Engine, though. I asked Apple if they improved the Taptic Engine for Series 4, and the answer was something like, “We’re always working to improve every aspect of the experience” — typical Apple-ese for “We don’t want to answer that.” They did say though, that the Taptic Engine should feel better because the Series 4 watch sits better on the wrist. Perhaps that explains what I’m feeling, but I suspect it’s both — that taps are helped simply because the watch sits better on the wrist and Apple improved the Taptic Engine.

Back in September 2014 at the event where Apple Watch was unveiled, I had a post-event briefing where I got to spend time examining and trying several prototype Apple Watches. (Remember: Apple announced it in September 2014, but it didn’t begin shipping until late April 2015.) In my post-event thoughts and observations piece, I wrote:

The digital crown feels amazing. It didn’t actually control anything on-screen on the demo watches I handled last week, but it has the most amazing feel of any analog controller I’ve ever used. Lubricious (in the second sense, if not the first as well) is the word that springs to mind.

This Digital Crown feels exactly how I remember that prototype Digital Crown feeling. Lubricious. I also vividly recall that the taps I got from those prototype watches felt almost humane — as though I were being tapped on the wrist by a friend trying to subtly get my attention. That’s what the taps on this watch feel like. Assertive, but polite. In the way that a notification sound can be pleasant, these taps are pleasant. This makes me think it took Apple four years to get to the point where the Digital Crown and Taptic Engine in production Apple Watches feel the way they’ve wanted them to feel all along. In hindsight I’m rather shocked that Apple granted me hands-on time with what were clearly prototypes.

Which brings us to the most striking new hardware on the Series 4: the display. I cheated a bit when I wrote the following bit in my thoughts and observations piece regarding last week’s event, because I’d been wearing this review unit for several days already:

With the exception of the Photos watch face (which Apple added to early models only grudgingly, knowing it looked bad but also knowing people would want it), previous Apple Watch faces all took advantage of the way OLED’s deep black could blend in almost seamlessly with the surrounding black bezel to effectively hide the corners of the display. A sharp-cornered rectangular display doesn’t look good on a round-cornered device. The entire concept was to blur the transition from the edges of the display to the bezel. The Series 4 watch faces embrace the corners of the display, celebrate the corners even, enabling fun and colorful watch faces that Apple surely never even considered for previous models. All previous Apple Watch faces were dark; most of the new ones are bright and colorful. It’s a big change.

There are a few new watch faces exclusive to Series 4, including its default watch face, Infograph. Infograph Modular is also exclusive to Series 4. This isn’t marketing spite — they just wouldn’t fit on the old displays. The other new full-bleed faces — Fire and Water, Kaleidoscope, Liquid Metal, and Vapor — are available on all watches running WatchOS 5, but they look far better on Series 4. On older watches they fill a circle in the middle of the display. On Series 4 they fill the display. I feel like it was a mistake for Apple to put any of them on the older watches. The Series 0-3 watches were meant to have faces with black backgrounds. Breathe is the only new face that I think looks at home on both old and new watches, but that’s because it isn’t meant to go full-bleed on the Series 4.

These colorful new full-screen watch faces look good and look fun. They make all the previous analog faces with black backgrounds look a bit staid. Me, I like staid. But a lot of people like fun more than staid.

But the other thing I’ve found is that the older watch faces, at least the analog ones, don’t look as good on a Series 4 watch as they do on Series 0-3. The old faces look better on the old watches and the new faces look better on the new ones.

Here’s an example. My very favorite watch face since Series 0 in 2015 has been Utility. I prefer minimal, uncluttered faces. This is how I’ve run Utility for years:

Screenshot of the Utility watch face on a Series 3 Apple Watch.

Here’s what that layout looks like on Series 4:

Screenshot of the Utility watch face on a Series 4 Apple Watch.

I don’t like the temperature at an angle up there at 11 o’clock. It fits with the Series 4 aesthetic where complications follow the curve of the dial rather than sit straight up and down in the corners, but it doesn’t look right to me. Because it’s only two characters, it doesn’t look like it’s following the curve of the dial. It just looks crooked. I don’t know that it would look better the old way either. The nature of the Series 4 has changed too much with this bigger display. It sounds like roll-your-eyes-prima-donna-designer talk, but Apple’s faces really are designed hand-in-hand with the hardware.2

What I like better is this layout using the new Infograph face:

Screenshot of the Utility watch face on a Series 4 Apple Watch.

It’s nowhere near as minimal, but that low-high temperature graph does provide useful information at a glance. And it looks like it’s meant to follow the curve of the dial. In the abstract, just looking at them as screenshots, I like this Infograph layout the least of all three, but on the Series 4 watch, on my wrist, I like it the most.

Miscellaneous

  • As promised, the speaker is much louder. It’s great for making short phone calls. The people I spoke to via calls over the watch said I sounded good, too. But I say “short calls” because it’s tiresome to hold your wrist in front of your mouth.

  • Infograph in its default configuration is beautiful, but in my opinion far too busy to be the default watch face. It’s the most information-dense face you can configure. And the default clock dial has a white background, which is even more distracting than the black background for Infograph that Apple is using in Series 4 product marketing photographs and video.

  • Even the back of the Series 4 watch looks cooler.

  • Complications have always been fun to play around with. It’s not full-on designing, but it is tinkering. You can lose a lot of time just tinkering around with Infograph alone.

  • Setting up a new Apple Watch still takes a very long time. It’s not a nice experience.

  • The side button now sits perfectly flush with the case, but is just as easy to press. That’s nice.

  • I haven’t fallen down this week.

The Bottom Line

Here’s one more morsel I’ll re-use from my event wrap-up:

I would argue that the landmark iPhone models were the original, the iPhone 4, the iPhone 6, and the iPhone X. It’s kind of interesting to me how the Apple Watch’s evolution has paralleled the iPhone’s. A first-generation model like nothing seen before, good enough to change an entire industry but deeply flawed in certain obvious ways. Second and third generation models that simply address those obvious flaws. And then a fourth generation model that takes things to an altogether new level, particularly pertaining to the display and the physical case of the device.

If you want a one sentence summary of what I think of the Series 4 Apple Watch, it’s this: Series 4 is to Apple Watch what iPhone 4 was to iPhone — the model that takes the original design to a new level.

The Series 4 Apple Watch models cost more than the Series 3 models did last year. Last year the Series 3 models started at $329 without cellular, $399 with. This year the Series 4 starts at $399 without cellular, $499 with.

That doesn’t seem right, you might think. You were waiting for these, and you love what you see, but they cost more than you expected to pay.

Welcome to the world of nicer watches.


  1. Retail: $43,000. Also, do those hour and minute hands on the Nautilus look familiar? ↩︎

  2. This is why I continue to believe Apple will never open Apple Watch to free-form third-party watch faces. ↩︎︎


★ The iPhones XS

Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-18 13:56, modified on 2018-09-26 17:54

Three years ago, Phil Schiller was my guest on stage at The Talk Show Live From WWDC 2015. Nearing the end (skip ahead to just before the 48:00 mark in the video), and wanting to talk about the iPhone and photography, I said, “I think it’s so clear — and the ‘Shot with iPhone’ marketing campaign shows that you guys clearly believe it too — that Apple has become one of, if not the, leading camera companies in the world.”

Before I could get to a question, Schiller jumped in.

The,” he said emphatically.

That moment, more than any other in that interview, really stuck with me. Go to Apple.com and look at the products atop the page: Mac, iPad, iPhone, Watch, TV, Music. Of course Phil Schiller thinks Apple is the world’s leading company in all those categories. I’d venture to say almost everyone in the audience for that show would have agreed with that. But to say Apple is the leading camera company in the world, full stop, wasn’t just about comparing Apple to other phone makers. It was about comparing Apple to companies like Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fujifilm, and Leica. And trust me, Schiller — an avid hobbyist photographer — understands exactly what those companies’ cameras are capable of. His emphatic, instant confidence in that statement — that in June 2015 Apple was already the leading camera company in the world — made me think one thing:

I wish I knew what he knows about the iPhone camera pipeline for the next few years.

Let’s Get the Size Thing Out of the Way First

The last four years, I’ve coyly titled my iPhone reviews “The iPhones 6”, “The iPhones 6S”, “The iPhones 7”, and “The iPhones 8”. That’s not how most people would pluralize these iPhone pairs (but some would — there’s some legitimate precedent with pluralizations like “mothers-in-law” and “attorneys general” where the adjective comes after the noun).

My thinking with the first of these — the iPhone 6 generation — was that I didn’t want to use the title “The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus”, because the year prior I’d used the title “The iPhone 5S and 5C”. That title fit, because the 5S and 5C were definitely different phones — the 5S had a new A7 chip (the first to go 64-bit), Touch ID, and a new camera. The 5C was basically the year-old iPhone 5 in new colorful plastic bodies. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus were different, but clearly of the same generation. I thought the “The iPhones 6” formulation helped emphasize that. Secondarily, I didn’t want to use the headline “The iPhone 6s” (as a plural) because there seemed to me a very good chance Apple would use the name iPhone 6S (singular) the next year — and I was right. And I didn’t want to use “The iPhone 6’s” (as a plural) because even though it’s acceptable to use an apostrophe followed by an S to pluralize letters and numbers,1 it doesn’t look good.

I’ve been testing an iPhone XS and XS Max — both in gold — since Wednesday evening last week. I spent the first few days mainly with the XS Max, and the remainder mainly with the XS. This year, I strongly considered titling this review “The iPhone XS”. Not to ignore the XS Max, but because I honestly think it’s best to think of them as two sizes of the same iPhone, not two separate iPhones — in the same way we treat color options. Pick your size, pick your color. It makes no more sense to review the iPhone XS and XS Max as different devices than it would to write separate reviews of medium and large cups of the same coffee. (There is no small coffee.)

Exact same A12 system-on-a-chip. Exact same cameras. In my own testing I have seen no discernible difference in performance, display quality, or the cameras’ photo or video quality. Maybe the XS Max is a little louder when you play audio through its speakers? If so, it’s not by much.

The only practical differences in the hardware are that the XS Max has — duh — a larger display (same exact quality as the XS, but more pixels, and thus displays more information on screen) and a larger battery. And in software, only the XS Max gets iPad-style two-column layouts in landscape orientation in apps like Messages and Mail.2 Those are meaningful differences, so “The iPhones XS” it is.

Coming from any previous iPhone from the Plus era, if you preferred the Plus size, I can’t see why you wouldn’t prefer the XS Max now. It’s almost exactly the same height and width as the 6-8 Plus devices, but about a millimeter smaller in both dimensions. That shouldn’t make much of a difference, but I swear, in my hand, it actually somehow feels more comfortable than an iPhone Plus. I don’t know if that’s a steel vs. aluminum thing or just the reviewer’s placebo effect.

Personally, I prefer the XS. But it was a closer call for me than in previous years.

For the remainder of this review, I’m mostly going to talk about the “iPhone XS”, but everything I say pertains to both sizes.

Photography

Take a look at Apple’s nifty three-column iPhone Comparison web page. It defaults to comparing the XS, XS Max, and XR.3 Change that third column to last year’s iPhone X, and the differences from top to bottom mostly look rather mild. Part of that is that most of the year-over-year improvements are rather mild. Water resistance, for example, went from IP67 to IP68 — from 1 meter for up to 30 minutes to 2 meters for up to 30 minutes. Nice, but not wow.

But there is one wow factor comparing the iPhone XS to last year’s iPhone X: photography. But the reasons don’t show up in Apple’s comparison spec list (even though some of them could). I’ve focused nearly the entirety of my testing on taking photos and videos side-by-side against my 10-month old iPhone X. Overall, I’m simply blown away by the iPhone XS’s results. Sometimes the difference is subtle but noticeable; sometimes the difference is between unusable and pretty good. The iPhone XS can capture still images and video that the iPhone X cannot.

It’s worth emphasizing — as I do every year — that normal people do not upgrade their phones after a single year. Most don’t upgrade after two years. They upgrade when their old phone breaks or gets too slow. Anyone upgrading to the iPhone XS from an iPhone 7 or older is getting a great upgrade in dozens of ways, and the camera system is just one of them. I’ve concentrated on comparing the iPhone XS’s camera to the iPhone X’s for two reasons. First, even though most people don’t buy iPhones annually, Apple releases a new generation of iPhones annually, so that year-over-year comparison feels like the natural way to measure their progress. Second, a fair number of people do upgrade annually, or at least consider it (enough people that Apple deemed it worthwhile to create an annual upgrade program), and for the people who own an iPhone X who are considering an upgrade to the XS, to my mind, the camera system is the one and only reason to do it. There are always edge cases. Someone who is a frequent international traveler might consider it worth upgrading just to get the dual SIM support. I’m sure some number of iPhone X owners will upgrade just to get the gold model. But for most people, I’m convinced the camera system is the reason to think about it.

A cynic might argue that the reason Apple spent so much time talking about photography and the camera system (which includes the Apple Neural Engine) is that it’s all they had to talk about this year. I would argue they spent a lot of time talking about photography because there’s a lot to talk about. In fact, I think Apple left out some remarkable aspects of the iPhone XS camera system from the keynote and their website.

Computational Photography and the Neural Engine

Apple didn’t leave this part out. Computational photography and the A12’s vastly improved Neural Engine are central to Apple’s pitch for the iPhone XS camera system. Based on the photos and videos I’ve shot, I believe them.

At a low level the Apple Neural Engine is way beyond my ken. I understand fundamentally how a CPU works. I sort of understand how modern GPUs are much faster than CPUs at certain computations which don’t necessarily pertain to rendering “graphics”. I have no idea how a neural engine works. All I know is it can be seemingly impossibly faster than a CPU or GPU at executing a machine learning model.

The iPhone XS has a seriously improved wide-angle camera. Just in terms of pure old-fashioned optics — light passing through a lens onto a sensor. More — perhaps too much more — on that later. But the iPhone XS has captured images for me that I’m certain can’t be explained by optics alone.

HDR has been around for a long time, and for years on the iPhone. It’s basically pretty simple: in difficult lighting conditions (harsh backlighting for example) HDR combines multiple exposures into a single image. In years past I generally turned HDR off on the iPhone. It was too hit and miss. That’s why up until last year, iPhones defaulted to keeping a normally exposed image alongside HDR images. But that was a pain in the ass, too — you’d wind up with two images in your photo roll for every picture you took. Even when the HDR image was better, you’d still have the non-HDR version to throw away.

On the iPhone XS Apple is touting a new feature they call Smart HDR:

Smart HDR. Leveraging multiple technologies — like faster sensors, an enhanced ISP, and advanced algorithms — Smart HDR brings more highlight and shadow detail to your photos.

Here’s my single favorite XS-vs.-X comparison shot. I took it last Friday after Cheaper Than Therapy, a terrific stand-up comedy show in San Francisco co-produced by my friend and sometimes podcast guest Scott Simpson.4

iPhone X (original image file):

Scott Simpson, Ben Jennings, and Jon Allen standing inside a bizarre clown in a dimly lit theater lobby.

iPhone XS (original image file):

Scott Simpson, Ben Jennings, and Jon Allen standing inside a bizarre clown in a dimly lit theater lobby.

I have done no post-processing on these images other than to scale them to a smaller size, and I shot both with the iOS 12 Camera app by just pointing, framing, and shooting. The original images, untouched other than converting from HEIF to JPEG when exporting from Photos, are about 2.2 MB in size.

The difference speaks for itself.

It’s a small theater in a basement. The lighting is just right for the lobby bar of a standup theater, but terrible for photography — ambient light is dim, but the clown has a bright spotlight right on its face. The iPhone X image is blown out; the iPhone XS image looks pretty good. That’s entirely attributable to Smart HDR. Notice too how in the XS shot you can easily read the “Shelton Theater” sign in the back of the clown’s mouth.5

Cheaper Than Therapy does shows four nights a week and people take photos inside that clown every show. Simpson told me the clown’s face always gets blown out. He was genuinely impressed and he’s just a dumb comedian.

I should be showing you pictures, a lot more pictures, not telling you about them. And video clips. They speak for themselves. Alas, Daring Fireball isn’t rigged up for presenting a lot of photos. (Regular readers: “Really? I never noticed that, Grubes.”) I plan to publish a variety of comparison shots in a more appropriate venue after this review.

The way I understand it, Smart HDR is basically applied to all images from the iPhone XS. Sometimes more, sometimes less. If an image needs a little highlight recovery, a little Smart HDR is applied. If it needs a lot, it does more. But Photos only applies the “HDR” badge when it’s really extreme. It didn’t even apply the “HDR” badge for the shot with the clown above.

Here’s another example. This time, Portrait Mode shots of yours truly, taken by my wife at brunch Sunday afternoon. There was bright sunlight streaming through a window over my shoulder.

iPhone X (original image file):

John Gruber, horribly blown out portrait.

iPhone XS (original image file):

John Gruber, pretty well exposed portrait.

I did not cherry-pick these two images. My wife took a bunch with each camera from the same position (her seat at the table), and the above images are representative of what all the photos from each respective iPhone looked like. Again, unusable vs. pretty good.

I never planned to put pictures of myself in this review. But these were so genuine. Not staged in the least. We didn’t pick our table. These portraits are how real people take real photos in the real world. Across a table from each other, enjoying a nice meal, on a nice day. Point, shoot. And this is what she got.

Here’s one more image from that bunch, which I didn’t use in the A/B comparison above because the framing and angle are slightly different.

iPhone XS (original image file):

John Gruber, pretty well exposed portrait with surprisingly accurate hair detection.

Here’s a crop of that image at 100 percent:

Surprisingly accurate hair detection.

I’ve never seen Portrait Mode on the iPhone X isolate individual strands of hair like that. That’s the exception rather than the norm on the XS, but still. [Update: As numerous sharp-eyed readers have pointed out, those hairs are in focus not because Portrait Mode did something right, but because it does something wrong — the depth mask has that whole dark column between windows behind my head in focus, and the side of my head just happened to fall in that region. It’s sort of a Bob Ross “happy accident” that I like the way this looks.]

My takeaway is that the Neural Engine really is a big deal for photography and video. Supposedly, it’s just as big a deal for AR, but the camera has been my obsessive focus this past week. For users, it’s a big deal because it has a dramatic, practical, real-time effect on the quality of the photos and videos they can shoot. None of this happens in post; all of it is visible live, as you shoot. And for Apple, it’s a big deal because I don’t think any of their competitors have something like this. Support for the Neural Engine permeates iOS and the entire A12 I/O system. Android handset makers can’t just buy a “neural engine” chip and stick it in a phone. Google does advanced machine learning — including for photos — but they do it in the cloud. You shoot a photo, upload it to Google’s servers, and they analyze the dumb photo to make it better. Their input is a JPEG file. (With the exception of their Pixel phones, where they do design the hardware and can apply machine learning on input from the sensors.)

With the iPhone XS and Apple Neural Engine, the input isn’t an image, it’s the data right off the sensors. It’s really kind of nuts how fast the iPhone XS camera is doing things in the midst of capturing a single image or frame of video. One method is to create an image and then apply machine learning to it. The other is to apply machine learning to create the image. One way Apple is doing this with video is by capturing additional frames between frames while shooting 30 FPS video, even shooting 4K. The whole I/O path between the sensor and the Neural Engine is so fast the iPhone XS camera system can manipulate 4K video frames like Neo dodging bullets in The Matrix.

The New Wide-Angle Lens and Sensor

Apple describes the XS as sporting “dual 12MP wide-angle and telephoto cameras”. This will be obvious to most of you, but in case it’s not, they’re not just dual rear-facing lenses, they’re dual rear-facing cameras. The wide-angle and telephoto lenses each have their own sensors. As a user you don’t have to know this, and should never notice it. The iPhone XS telephoto camera is the same as in the iPhone X — same lens, same sensor.

But the iPhone XS wide-angle camera has a new lens, which I believe to be superior to last year’s, and an amazing new sensor which is remarkably better than last year’s. And last year’s was very good.

I don’t want to wander too far into the weeds here, but bear with me. Focal length is how wide a lens is. A wide-angle lens has a lower focal length; a telephoto lens has a higher one. The camera industry advertises focal lengths in terms of their equivalence to a 35 mm film camera system. So on an actual 35 mm film camera or a full-frame DSLR (so called because the sensor is the same size as a frame of 35 mm film), a “28 mm lens” has an actual focal length of 28 mm.

Phone camera sensors are way smaller than 35 mm. They’re tiny in comparison. The lenses are tiny in comparison too. The actual focal length of a phone camera lens is much smaller than the focal length in 35 mm equivalent terms. So for example, the telephoto lens on both the iPhone X and XS has an equivalent focal length of 52 mm. That means if you took photos from the same spot with the iPhone XS telephoto lens and a full-frame DSLR with a 52 mm lens, you’d capture the same field of view in the resulting images from both cameras. They would appear to be equally wide. But the actual optical focal length of the iPhone XS telephoto lens is 6 mm. You can see the actual focal length of the lens used to capture any image in your library by opening the Info palette in the MacOS Photos app — the focal length is right next to the ISO value. It’s stored in the image as part of the EXIF data.

Here’s where it gets interesting. (I swear.) The iPhone X’s wide-angle lens had an equivalent focal length of 28 mm. Its actual focal length was 4.0 mm.

When I first started comparing side-by-side shots from the iPhone XS and iPhone X using the wide-angle lens, I noticed that the shots from the iPhone XS had a slightly larger field of view. They were a little bit wider. Look at the photos of the clown photo booth above and you can see it clearly. I didn’t move at all between those shots — both phones were roughly the same distance from the subjects, but the iPhone XS captured more of the scene. Apple confirmed to me that this is true — the iPhone XS wide-angle lens has an equivalent focal length of 26 mm. Not a lot wider, but enough to be noticeable. But when you look at the actual focal length of the lens in Photos (or any other app that can display the EXIF data of the image files), it is 4.25 mm.

0.25 mm may sound tiny but consider that the “telephoto” lens is only 6 mm. The equivalent focal length is wider, but the actual focal length is longer. This made no sense to me at first. Then I realized it would make sense if the camera sensor were a lot larger. And lo, here’s what Apple’s iPhone XS camera page says:

More low‑light detail. The camera sensor features deeper, larger pixels. Deeper to improve image fidelity. And larger to allow more light to hit the sensor. The result? Even better low‑light photos.

“Larger” is all they say. Not how much larger. That left me with the assumption that it was only a little bit larger, because if it were a lot larger, they’d be touting it, right? There are “field of view” calculators you can use to compute the sensor size given the other variables, so I used one, and by my calculations, the sensor would be over 30 percent larger.

I repeat: over 30 percent larger.

That seemed too good to be true. But I checked, and Apple confirmed that the iPhone XS wide-angle sensor is in fact 32 percent larger. That the pixels on the sensor are deeper, too, is what allows this sensor to gather 50 percent more light. This exemplifies why more “megapixels” are not necessarily better. One way to make a sensor bigger is to add more pixels. But what Apple’s done here is use the same number — 12 megapixels — and make the pixels themselves bigger. 12 megapixels are plenty — what phone cameras need are bigger pixels.

I think what makes this 32 percent increase in sensor size hard to believe, especially combined with a slightly longer lens, is that by necessity, this combination means the sensor must be further away from the lens. This basic necessity of moving the lens further from the sensor (or film) is why DSLRs are so big compared to a phone. But the iPhone XS is exactly the same thickness as the iPhone X, including the camera bump. (Apple doesn’t publish the bump thickness but I measured with precision calipers.) So somehow Apple managed not only to put a 32 percent larger sensor in the iPhone XS wide-angle camera, but also moved the sensor deeper into the body of the phone, further from the lens.

And to geek out even more, even though the XS has a wider field of view, because the actual lens element on the XS is longer than the X, it gets this wider field of view without introducing additional wide-angle lens barrel distortion — in fact, because the actual lens is longer, I suspect there’s less barrel distortion. Slightly less of that generally undesirable fisheye effect, even though the field of view is slightly wider.

Why isn’t Apple touting this larger sensor? Well, look at how long it took me to get to the end of this section. It’s a rabbit hole. They got out of this whole digression by just saying the sensor gathers 50 percent more light. On the one hand, that’s really all that matters. But on the other hand, to my ears at least, “50 percent more light” seems a bit hand-wavy.

“32 percent larger sensor”, however, means something very specific, and it should perk up the ears of any photographer — even one who’s skeptical of Apple’s “computational photography” claims. You could sell an upgrade to the XS to iPhone X-owning photo enthusiasts just by telling them the sensor is so much larger.

The other explanation I can think of is that this almost certainly isn’t Apple’s own sensor. Camera sensors aren’t something Apple designs on its own (yet?). So maybe they don’t want to call extra attention to something that is bound to appear in other high-end phones soon.

Apple isn’t celebrating this new sensor, but photographers will be.

The Great Thickening

I knew that last year’s iPhone X was thicker than the previous few years of iPhones, which was interesting in and of itself. But I didn’t think about it as part of a years-long trend. The iPhone 5 series phones (including the SE) were all 7.6 mm thick, with no camera bump. Ignoring the bumps, the iPhone 6 slimmed to 6.9 mm, and thickness crept up to 7.1 mm with the iPhone 6S and 7, and then up to 7.3 with the iPhone 8. (The Plus model counterparts of each generation were all 0.2 mm thicker.) One common refrain during the iPhone 6 era was Apple had taken its obsession with thinness too far. No one thought the iPhone 5 wasn’t thin enough, but lots of people had problems getting all-day battery life. Why didn’t Apple maintain the same overall thickness of the thin-enough iPhone 5 and use the extra volume for a slightly bigger battery?

Well, the iPhone X, XS, and XS Max are all 7.7 mm thick — just a hair thicker than the iPhone 5. And those iPhones all share the biggest ever camera bump — at the bump, they’re all 9.05 mm thick. And the iPhone XR is even thicker: 8.3 mm. Apple does tend to make its products ever thinner and lighter, but they’ve reversed course. Every model in the iPhone X series is thicker than any iPhone since the 4S, and each generation of iPhone has gotten thicker since the iPhone 6. I think this is the right trade-off, both for battery life and to allow for a bigger camera.

Miscellaneous

  • Apple is calling the iPhone XS Face ID “Advanced Face ID”. I asked why they weren’t calling it “second generation”, like they did with Touch ID, and was told it’s because Face ID is more of a system. Second-generation Touch ID was a single new component. A complicated component, but a component. The improvements to Face ID aren’t just a component in the sensor array — they’re tied to things like the Neural Engine in the A12. Is it actually an improved experience? I think so, but it’s hard for me to say because Face ID works so well for me with my iPhone X.

  • Apple describes the glass (front and back) on the iPhone XS as “the most durable glass ever in a smartphone”. I asked, and according to Apple, this means both crack and scratch resistance.

  • One imperfection: the antenna lines on the iPhone X were symmetric; on iPhone XS they are not. And a side effect of the new antenna line on the bottom left is that the speaker grille holes are no longer symmetric — there are 3 on the left and 6 on the right on the XS, and 4 on the left and 7 on the right for the XS Max. The iPhone X had 6 symmetric holes on each side. I guessed this new antenna layout was for dual SIM support, but I was wrong. It’s for 4 × 4 MIMO license-assisted access technology, which is how the iPhone XS supports gigabit LTE where available. I would trade symmetry for gigabit LTE — my only question is how many people can actually take advantage of it?

  • One thing that’s weird about Portrait Mode is that you can’t edit it on other devices. If you use an iPhone X to edit a Portrait Mode photo shot on an iPhone XS, you can modify the lighting effects, because the iPhone X supports lighting effects. But to play with the bokeh depth of field f-stops, you have to use an iPhone XS because it depends on the A12’s Neural Engine.


    Update: The above is all wrong. Any iPhone or iPad running iOS 12 can edit the bokeh depth of field of a Portrait Mode shot from an iPhone XS or XR. Even better, when Mojave ships, Photos for Mac will be able to do it too. My mistaken assumption was reasonable, though. Before last week’s Apple event, I updated my iPhone X to the developer GM of iOS 12. Throughout my testing of the iPhone XS, that’s what I was using. But the developer GM build of iOS 12 didn’t have the depth of field stuff in it, because that was a secret held for the keynote announcement of the feature. If it had been in the GM, Guilherme Rambo or Steven Troughton-Smith would’ve found it before the keynote. That never occurred to me — and I thus assumed the GM build I was running was feature-complete. Anyway, I’m happy to be wrong about this.

  • The default wallpapers for iPhone XS (they’re actually soap bubbles, not planets, as I originally thought) hide the sensor array notch with a black background. Purely a coincidence, I’m sure. The notch was a worthwhile tradeoff. But the device looks better when it’s hidden by a black background, and that’s how the iPhone XS looks in the initial ad campaign.

  • I asked Apple about the “improved wireless charging”. It’s a classic S-cycle refinement. It’s not a new charging standard or support for a higher wattage or anything like. The iPhone XS has a new tighter coil design, which helps it to be more forgiving when it’s misaligned on the charging pad. I’ve run into this myself — sometimes with the iPhone X, if you’re not really paying attention when you put it on the pad, it either charges very slowly or not at all. The iPhone XS has a larger sweet spot.

  • There’s a cool XS-exclusive feature in Settings → Camera → Record Video. If you’re shooting at 30 FPS — whether in 720p, 1080p, or 4K — you can enable “Auto Low Light FPS”, which will drop the frame rate to 24 FPS on the fly whenever the phone deems necessary to get better low light exposures. This can happen in the middle of recording. Start recording in a bright room and move to a dark one or turn down the lights, and the frame rate will change within the clip.

Conclusion

For anyone upgrading from an older iPhone, the iPhone XS and XS Max should seem amazing in every regard. Compared to last year’s iPhone X, the XS and XS Max are solid refinements across the board, but deliver a dramatic year-over-year step forward in photo and video quality. If you care about the image quality of the photos and videos you shoot with your phone, it’s hard to resist.

What I find most interesting is that the two things responsible for that step forward — the A12 system (including the same Apple Neural Engine) and the much larger new wide-angle camera sensor — are included in the upcoming iPhone XR, which, for the same amount of storage, costs $250 less than than the XS and $350 less than the XS Max. I suspect there are a lot of people out there who don’t care about the telephoto lens on the XS and who don’t see much if any difference between the XR’s LCD display and the XS’s OLED one who are looking at these prices thinking they must be missing something. They’re not.

iPhones can’t compete with big dedicated cameras in lens or sensor quality. It’s not even close. The laws of physics prevent it. But those traditional camera companies can’t compete with Apple in custom silicon or software, and their cameras can’t compete with iPhones in terms of always-in-your-pocket convenience and always-on internet connectivity for sharing. In the long run, the smart money is to bet on silicon and software.


  1. Mind your p’s and q’s; don’t forget to dot your i’s and cross your t’s. ↩︎

  2. Personally, I never use my iPhone in landscape orientation except when using the camera, watching video, or playing a game. So that feature is meaningless to me — neither a plus nor a minus. ↩︎︎

  3. I don’t have an XR in hand, and haven’t seen one since Apple’s event last week. If history is any guide, they won’t seed review units until mid-October, a few days before they start taking pre-orders on the 19th and 10-11 days before they start shipping and arrive in stores on the 26th. ↩︎︎

  4. If you live in San Francisco or are ever in town and you enjoy standup, I highly recommend you go. It’s just great. Get tickets in advance, though — they’re sold out in advance most nights. ↩︎︎

  5. “In the Back of the Clown’s Mouth” would be a good title for a detective novel. ↩︎︎


★ Thoughts and Observations on Apple’s iPhone XS/XR and Series 4 Apple Watch Introductory Event

Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-16 03:58, modified on 2018-09-17 05:50

The Event and Venue

I just re-read my “Welcome to the Steve Jobs Theater” piece from last year, and my description of the venue holds up well. It truly is a magnificent venue. Before, during, and after the show, it feels like something big is being announced. That feeling just couldn’t be conjured at the old Town Hall facility on the Infinite Loop campus. WWDC feels big, of course, but that’s because there are like 5,000 or 6,000 people in the audience and it’s held in a cavernous convention hall. Apple’s numerous events in San Francisco could have a “this is a big deal” feel — especially the recent ones that were held at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium — but what the Steve Jobs Theater provides that no venue in San Francisco ever could is seclusion. Apple Park really feels like it is its own world. Putting “Park” in the complex’s name was exactly right. In terms of sight lines and feeling like you’re isolated from the rest of the world, the effect is very similar to being in one of the theme parks at Walt Disney World. As you walk the pathway uphill from the Visitor Center to the theater, ambient music plays from hidden speakers. The only thing man-made you can see from the pavilion atop the Steve Jobs Theater is Apple Park’s Ring building, seemingly on the horizon. The foliage and grass filled in significantly since last year. It even smelled better this year — last year the odor of fertilizer for the grass still wafted in the air.

It’s simply beautiful, inside and out. The experience of attending an event there is just very, very Apple. Steve Jobs would have loved it.

Last year I complained about the hands-on area being crowded. Apple had an altogether new table layout this year, and it really helped.

Apple, I suspect, wants to be conservative about using this space for events. Many of us expect Apple to hold an event some time in October, to introduce new iPad Pros and updated MacBooks. They might hold that at Apple Park too — the new iPad Pros look to be major updates, worthy of a major event. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they held it elsewhere. And I really doubt they’ll ever hold more than two public events here in a year. It’s extraordinary to think about how much they spent to build a facility they intend to use only a handful of times per year. (They do use the theater internally, for company events.)

Apple Watch Series 4

All three products (counting XS and XS Max as a single product in two sizes, which, as I’ll explain later, is how to think about them) are interesting, but to me, the Series 4 watch was the standout of the show. The XS and XR iPhones are refinements to the landmark X that was announced last year. The Series 4 watch is a landmark redesign.

I would argue that the landmark iPhone models were the original, the iPhone 4, the iPhone 6, and the iPhone X. It’s kind of interesting to me how the Apple Watch’s evolution has paralleled the iPhone’s. A first-generation model like nothing seen before, good enough to change an entire industry but deeply flawed in certain obvious ways. Second and third generation models that simply address those obvious flaws. And then a fourth generation model that takes things to an altogether new level, particularly pertaining to the display and the physical case of the device.

Series 4’s display improvements (bigger, stretching corner to corner) and case redesign are subtle compared to iPhone 4’s retina display and utterly new glass-backed steel-framed case, but watches (well, most watches) are inherently subtle things.

The Series 4 displays take up so much more of the face of the watches that the new 40mm watch’s display is larger than the display on the old 42 mm models — the new small watch has a larger display than the old large watch. With the exception of the Photos watch face (which Apple added to early models only grudgingly, knowing it looked bad but also knowing people would want it), previous Apple Watch faces all took advantage of the way OLED’s deep black could blend in almost seamlessly with the surrounding black bezel to effectively hide the corners of the display. A sharp-cornered rectangular display doesn’t look good on a round-cornered device. The entire concept was to blur the transition from the edges of the display to the bezel. The Series 4 watch faces embrace the corners of the display, celebrate the corners even, enabling fun and colorful watch faces that Apple surely never even considered for previous models. All previous Apple Watch faces were dark; most of the new ones are bright and colorful. It’s a big change.

A few millimeters shaved here and there can make a huge difference in how any sort of watch looks on your wrist. Without even considering the displays, the new Apple Watches simply look better, both off and particularly on the wrist. They sit better.

The ECG feature is getting a lot of attention, and I think justifiably so. Jeff Williams put it well when he said something to the effect of “We know this feature is going to save lives.” I don’t know if that’s going to be dozens of lives or thousands, but no matter the number, that’s really a hell of a thing. Yes, Apple is the world’s most profitable company and they’re not giving these watches away, but both of these things can be — and I believe are — true: Apple wants to make a ton of money selling Apple Watches, and Apple, institutionally, from engineers and designers right up to C-level executives, cares deeply about this health and fitness stuff.

The fall detection features are an interesting example. The feature could be useful for anyone, of course. Even the healthiest, strongest, able-bodied-est person can slip on ice or fall down, say, five steps. But it seems obvious to me this feature will be most useful for people most at risk of falling (and most at risk of needing help after a fall) — the elderly and people with significant medical conditions. Just at the event itself in the post-show hands-on area, I spoke to several people in their 40s or 50s who said the same thing: they were already considering buying Series 4 watches for their parents for this feature alone.

There is no Edition model of Apple Watch this year. I’m not sure what to make of that. The original 18-karat gold Edition watches never made sense to me. It’s clear that was a mistake — they never sold well even by the standards of $20,000 watches, and working with gold didn’t help Apple with other products. The Ceramic Edition models, though, I thought were great. They looked good, felt good, and weren’t that much more expensive than the steel ones. And ceramic seemed like a material Apple might work with again.

The new gold stainless steel option is intriguing. It’s not my style, but I’m certain it’s going to be popular. I would describe it as being a non-blingy gold. It looks premium, not cheap in the least (which is how I feel about Apple’s gold anodized aluminum), but it’s not a Goldfinger gold-bars-in-Fort-Knox gold like the original Apple Watch Edition was. There’s a slight bit of brassiness to it and maybe a touch of pink. And the color exactly matches the gold iPhone XS and XS Max — I asked and Apple confirmed they’re using the exact same process on both.

iPhone XS

The XS is exactly what I expected: a classic S-model upgrade to the iPhone X. More energy efficient in some ways (CPU), impressively faster in general (particularly the GPU), and a lot faster in certain very specific ways (Apple Neural Engine). These improvements are most noticeable with the camera (which has a new lens system and a significantly better sensor) and AR. I saw some AR demos after the event and the difference between the iPhone XS and iPhone X was astounding. If you think Apple is blowing smoke about the Apple Neural Engine being 9 times faster than last year, try some ARKit apps side by side.

iPhone XS Max

The XS Max is exactly what I expected: just a bigger version of the XS. It has a bigger display, but the displays are otherwise identical. It has a bigger battery, and thus gets a bit more battery life (Apple says about an hour). Otherwise, the XS and XS Max are equals. That was never true of the Plus-labeled phones — the Plus models had slightly better cameras and displays with higher pixel density.

iPhone XR

The XR is not what I expected. I figured it would be less than a X-class iPhone. Maybe it would have last year’s A11 chip. Maybe the camera would be a bit worse than the wide angle camera on the XS. Maybe it would have “first generation” Face ID. None of that is true. My guess that they’d call it iPhone 9 was based on my wrong assumption that this would be a mid-range iPhone. It’s not. It’s absolutely worthy of being called an iPhone X.

The differences between the XR and XS are very few, and mostly very obvious. The XR has an LCD display, not OLED. One side effect of this is that the bezels surrounding the display are slightly wider — because of LCD backlighting, Apple couldn’t get them as close to the edges as they can with OLED. It only has one camera on the back, but that camera is exactly the same as the wide angle camera on the XS models. Same A12 chip, too, so photos and video shot on the XR get the same “computational photography” improvements.

The XR is not a new mid-range iPhone like the iPhone 5C was. The 5C shipped alongside the 5S but it had the internals of a year-old iPhone 5. The XR is a new premium iPhone. Last year’s iPhone X ushered in a new super-premium tier, which is now occupied by the XS and XS Max.

The one compromise that sticks out is the XR’s lack of 3D Touch. Not because I particularly like 3D Touch — I don’t — but because it makes for a confusing mishmash of what you can do on which iOS devices. No iPad to date has had 3D Touch, and now we have a new premium iPhone that doesn’t have it. The iPhone XR does have a “Haptic Touch” feature that takes the place of 3D Touch, but only in a few places: the flashlight and camera shortcuts on the lock screen, and I think in Control Center. In my very limited time with a XR after the event, it seems like a long press with a tap when it triggers. They might be doing something to detect the size of your touch area on the display, such that a light touch held for a long time won’t trigger it. I think the reason it can’t work everywhere 3D Touch works is because it’s really just a long press. Apple can’t use Haptic Touch on home screen icons, I think, because a long press already has meaning there: it enters you into jiggle mode. They can use it for the flashlight and camera lock screen shortcuts because a long press has no meaning there. Same for Control Center. Those are the places where I use 3D Touch most, so I actually think this Haptic Touch fallback will turn out just fine for XR users (and iPad, if they use the same thing there).

Incredibly, the XR actually has one significant advantage over the XS models: longer battery life — even compared to the XS Max. Look at Apple’s excellent iPhone comparison page and scroll down to the Power and Battery section. (Here’s a screenshot for posterity.) For the first item — overall daily battery life — they no longer give a single number. The XS and XS Max are instead compared to the iPhone X (up to 30 minutes and 90 minutes more, respectively). The XR is compared to the iPhone 8 Plus (up to 90 minutes more). But look at the specific numbers down the list. For “Internet use”, the numbers for the XS, XS Max, and XR are 12, 13, and 15 hours. For “Video playback (wireless)”, the numbers are 14, 15, and 16. It’s not a huge difference but it sure is intriguing. All three new iPhones get excellent battery life, but the iPhone XR — according to Apple — gets the best.

The Names

I honestly believe most people in the real world spent the last year pronouncing the X in “iPhone X” as ex, not ten. With these XS and XR names, that’s only going to get more pronounced. I really find it hard not to say ex-arr and ex-ess. A Roman numeral is hard enough. But to put two alphabetic characters next to each other and expect people to treat one as a Roman numeral and the other as a letter is too much. They look like ex-arr and ex-ess so people are naturally going to see them and say them as ex-arr and ex-ess.

Think about this. If the naming system is “X_”, where the leading X represents 10 and the underscore is a letter of the alphabet, we could have an “iPhone XX”, which Apple would have you believe should be pronounced ten-ex. Madness. Apple wouldn’t do this, of course, but it shows how illogical this X-as-ten naming scheme is.

As for the S and R letter, here’s what I think. An S suffix has been Apple’s go-to naming scheme for any new iPhone with a nearly identical form factor to the previous year’s model. The only time they’ve ever offered an explanation for this was during the introduction of the 3GS, when Phil Schiller said, “The S simply stands for ‘speed’.” No explanation has been given for the letters Apple has used since. Whether the S still stood for “speed” with the iPhones 4S, 5S, 6S, and now XS, Apple has never said. It seems to me to mean “It looks almost exactly like last year’s iPhone but has cool new stuff inside.

The C in “iPhone 5C” seemed rather obviously to stand for “color”, but Apple never confirmed that. Some speculators thought the XR would be named the XC for the same reason — the rumor mill had suggested for months that the new 6.1-inch LCD model would be available in a variety of sporty colors. I think Apple avoided that because when they use these letters, they use them in the same way. The XR iPhones are indeed colorful, but as I wrote above, the 5C debuted as a mid-range iPhone with year-old specs; the XR is a premium iPhone with this year’s specs. So they needed a new letter, and R was it. After the event, I tried asking several people who would know what the R stood for. Even completely off the record, no dice. The only answer I could get was, “We don’t like to talk about what the letters mean.”

Here’s my genuine guess. The R doesn’t stand for any particular word. I can’t even think of any words starting with R that describe the iPhone XR. I think Apple thinks “iPhone XR” looks cool, sounds cool, and because R immediately precedes S in the alphabet, it subtly implies the XR’s place in the product lineup — it’s less than an XS but only just so.

It also occurs to me that in recent years Apple doesn’t have anyone narrating iPhone commercials. They just play music and show title cards. How would someone who doesn’t watch Apple keynotes even know they’re supposed to be pronounced ten-ess and ten-arr? Everything I wrote last year regarding why I thought it would be pronounced ex, not ten, stands up. Why choose names they know will be mispronounced by most customers?

My only guess — and again, a genuine guess, because I’m telling you, they do not like to talk about why they choose the product names they do — is that they don’t care that millions of people will pronounce them ex-arr and ex-ess. They don’t care that ex-ess sounds like “excess” even though it’s used in the name of a cell phone that costs almost $1500. They think the X’s look cool and they go with their guts and that’s all there is to it.

Regarding capitalization, there’s some lingering confusion over whether Apple is capitalizing these names as “XS/XR” or “Xs/Xr”. That’s because on their website and in some printed materials, they’re using small caps for the S and R, and with the iPhone XS, a small caps S is very difficult to distinguish from a lowercase S. But a quick glance at the iPhone XR product page will make this clear — a small caps R looks nothing like a lowercase one.

Miscellaneous

  • AirPower: I wrote about AirPower’s absence earlier this week. What I’ve heard, third-hand but from multiple little birdies, is that AirPower really is well and truly fucked. Something about the multi-coil design getting too hot — way too hot. There are engineers who looked at AirPower’s design and said it could never work, thermally, and now those same engineers have that “told you so” smug look on their faces. Last year Apple was apparently swayed by arguments that they could figure out a way to make it not get hot. They were, clearly, wrong. I think they’ve either had to go completely back to the drawing board and start over with an entirely different design, or they’ve decided to give up and they just don’t want to say so.

  • AirPods: A few weeks ago I tweeted, “I wonder how many people have put off AirPod purchases while waiting for the AirPower-compatible case?” A bunch of people replied that they were doing just that. People are waiting for new AirPods, or at least the new AirPods case. And the only reason to wait for the case is AirPower. So the AirPower debacle is even hurting AirPod sales (at least to some degree — there are obviously many people buying AirPods every day).

  • AR: The Steve Nash basketball demo — Homecourt is the name of the app — was great. I’ve seen a bunch of ARKit demos that made me think “That’s very cool”. This was the first one that made me think “That’s very useful”. I played competitive basketball in high school and then for years afterward recreationally, and there’s no doubt in my mind that coaches are going to use this app. No sensors on the player, no sensors in the ball or on the rim, just an app and your iPhone — and tremendously useful training information and analysis.