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Daring Fireball

A feed by John Gruber


BMW’s Apple CarPlay Annual Fee Is Next-Level Gouging

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-20 04:29

Tim Stevens, writing for CNet:

Instead of a one-time, $300 fee, starting on 2019 models BMW will charge $80 annually for the privilege of accessing Apple’s otherwise totally free CarPlay service. You do get the first year free, much like your friendly neighborhood dealer of another sort, but after that it’s pay up or have your Lightning cable metaphorically snipped.

On the surface this is pretty offensive, and it seemed like something must be driving this. The official word from BMW is that this is a change that will save many (perhaps most) BMW owners money. Indeed, the vehicle segments where BMW plays are notorious for short-term leases, and those owning the car for only a few years will save money over that one-time $300. But still, the notion of paying annually for something that’s free rubbed me the wrong way. And, based on the feedback we saw from the article, it rubbed a lot of you the wrong way, too.

It’s patently offensive. If BMW goes through with this, you can never truly own one of their cars. $80/year isn’t much compared to the price of the car, but on general principle this is way out there in Fuck You territory.

We bought an Acura back in 2006, paid it off within a few years, and haven’t sent a single penny to the Honda Motor Company since. Not one penny. And the car is still running great — with every single function working just as well as it did the day we drove it off the lot. The fact that everything still works well speaks to Honda’s reliability. The fact that we haven’t had to send them a money is because, you know, we own the goddamn thing.


In speaking with multiple sources at various manufacturers who offer cars with Apple CarPlay and/or Android Auto, I was quickly able to confirm that such fees, at least right now, do not exist. CarPlay and Android Auto, which are free for we consumers to use, are also provided for free for manufacturers to embed into their cars.

CarPlay isn’t entirely free, however. As Markdown inventor and Apple guru John Gruber pointed out on Twitter, car manufacturers who wish to officially support Apple products must pay a licensing fee to enter Apple’s Made for iPhone (MFi) program, just like any other licensed accessory maker. As Gruber was able to confirm, however (and I was able to verify), this is a one-time fee. And, while I could not get anyone to disclose the exact fees entailed, it’s quite clear that there’s no additional fee for CarPlay on top of the base MFi license.

My understanding is that Apple’s fee is nominal — and unequivocally nominal in the context of the price of any new car, let alone a new BMW. There’s a hardware component — CarPlay-enabled cars need an Apple authentication chip — but the gist of it is that Apple’s goal is to get more cars on the road that are CarPlay-enabled, not to make money from CarPlay-enabled cars.

Link: cnet.com/roadshow/news/bmw-carplay-fee-highway-robbery/

The Apple Cash FAQ

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-20 03:48

Horace Dediu:

As individuals we think that having lots of cash makes us rich. For companies it’s the opposite. Cash is a liability. If you come across a company that is cash rich and has nothing else, its enterprise value will be zero. Companies are valued on their future cash flows, meaning their ability to generate cash, not how much they managed to keep. In other words, cash is a measure of past success and investors are interested only in future value. That future value comes from the intelligent allocation of resources toward a valuable goal. A company rich in cash but poor in vision is likely to be taken private or broken up and shut down. Cash is an IOU to shareholders with a thank-you note for the support through the years.

Such a fabulously clear and concise overview of Apple’s financials.

Link: asymco.com/2018/01/18/the-apple-cash-faq/

The Ressence Type 2 E-Crown Concept

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-20 02:43, modified at 04:15

Stephen Pulvirent, writing for Hodinkee:

Working with Tony Fadell (who you might know as the designer of the iPod, the founder of Nest, and a noted Talking Watches guest), Ressence has gone a few steps further than anyone else thinking in this direction. The idea is that you initially set the Type 2 e-Crown Concept using the mechanical mechanism on the watch’s rear, and then you never need to touch that again (unless you want to, of course — this is a mechanical watch and that system will always work). After that, you can use a paired down iPhone app to adjust to one of two timezones and you can have the watch automatically reset to the correct time after its power reserve winds down. The details have all been thought through as well, with the intermediary mechanism powering itself both kinetically and through 10 tiny photovoltaic cells hidden behind the dial. If you don’t wear the watch and the battery runs below 50%, 10 little shutters open up to reveal the cells and gather light for energy (you can also open these manually via the app). The watch even automatically adjusts for Daylight Savings time, so no worries there either.

It’s a mechanical watch with a super-low-power electronic system to keep the watch time in sync and communicate with a phone app. I’m generally reluctant to link to “concept designs”, but I suspect this one will ship, and Fadell’s involvement certainly increases my interest.

Here’s Ressence’s own description of their e-Crown system. Ressence, if you’re not a watch nerd, is a fascinating company making truly innovative watches. But they’re rather pricy — the gorgeous Type 3 carries a suggested retail price of CHF 33,500 (about $35,000 USD).

Link: hodinkee.com/articles/ressence-type-2-e-crown-concept

Bad Design in Action: The False Hawaiian Ballistic Missile Alert

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-20 02:26, modified at 02:31

Jason Kottke:

Hopefully this, uh, “redesign” is temporary and a full overhaul is in the works. That menu is a really dangerous bit of interface design and adding an “oopsie, we didn’t mean it button” doesn’t help. The employee made a mistake but it’s not his fault and he shouldn’t be fired for it. The interface is the problem and whoever caused that to happen — the designer, the software vendor, the heads of the agency, the lawmakers who haven’t made sufficient funds available for a proper design process to occur — should face the consequences. More importantly, the necessary changes should be made to fix the problem in a way that’s holistic, resilient, long-lasting, and helps operators make good decisions rather than encouraging mistakes.

Link: kottke.org/18/01/bad-design-in-action-the-false-hawaiian

Die With Me: $1 Chat App That Only Works When You Have Less Than 5 Percent Battery Remaining

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-19 21:41

What a stupid, silly idea. I love it.

Link: diewithme.online/

Tim Carmody on the Demise of The Awl and Hairpin

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-19 20:32

Tim Carmody, writing at Kottke.org:

The Awl should have been the model for a new generation of sites that all outlived it. It wasn’t. We would mourn it less if there were more new blogs, staffed by hands young and old, rising to succeed it, jockeying to become required reading. Right now, there aren’t.

But who knows? There is still plenty of time.

Link: kottke.org/18/01/all-things-end

Open Letters: Dean Allen on His Mother’s Wedding

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-19 20:28

Open Letters was a site that ran in the latter half of 2000. Contributions were from anyone. There were small, collaborative projects like Open Letters all over the web back then. It was good.

Dean Allen’s letter was great:

Dear Dad,

So Mom got married yesterday. It was in a park, amid some lurid autumn trees. The ceremony was performed with the river and the mountains in the background, and the whole affair was small, and nice, and stress-free. Unforced.

For the week leading up to it I was in a lousy mood. I was having trouble being any good at anything, and it all seemed glum. I couldn’t be bothered to prepare for the wedding (usually, if an event is coming up, with family or people I haven’t seen in a while, I try to gather up some material beforehand: bits of biography for the what’ve-you-been-up-tos, jokes, etc., but at Mom’s wedding I might as well have walked in, in a rented tuxedo, by mistake). Waking up yesterday I did something that happens now and again when things just aren’t going well: I opened my eyes and said, “Not this again.”

We just don’t have things like this anymore.

Link: openletters.net/2000/11/dean-allen-on-his-mothers-wedding/

Jason Kottke on Dean Allen

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-19 19:40, modified at 19:42

Lovely remembrance from Jason Kottke:

Weirdly, or maybe not, my two biggest memories of Dean involve food. One of my favorite little pieces of writing by him (or anyone else for that matter), is How to Cook Soup.

One of my favorites from Dean as well.

Link: kottke.org/18/01/rest-in-peace-dean-allen

★ Dean Allen

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-19 02:58, modified at 07:20

Om Malik:

Dean Cameron Allen, a 50-ish writer, designer, web-guy, and an all-around rascal, died this weekend in London, U.K. He leaves behind his parents, a former girlfriend and a lot of friends. If the universe feels a little hollow this week, now you know why.

Jason Hoffman, founder of Joyent and a close friend, called out of the blue. He has just moved back from Stockholm, back to the Bay Area after a stint at Ericsson. “Dean is no more,” Jason said. He was fighting to hold back his tears, his voice shaking. I think I heard Jason say that Dean took his own life, giving up on the struggle.

Dean was a magnificent bastard. His death is a real gut punch. I heard about it two days ago, and still can’t believe it. Om’s obituary is simply splendid, capturing the man I knew.

Textism was such an achingly-good thing — an utterly personal website of exquisite writing and beautiful design. Unlike most who came from the print world — and Dean was a mightily talented print designer — Dean loved and truly got the web. He knew it wasn’t an ersatz throwaway stand-in for people too cheap to pay for the print edition of a magazine or newspaper. He knew the web was a wonderful new medium of its own, a glorious playground ripe for anything. Textism was well-paced.

Dean strove for perfection and often achieved it.

Textism started in 2001, a little over a year before I started Daring Fireball. To say that Textism was an influence on Daring Fireball is an understatement for the ages. Fairer to say Textism was the influence on Daring Fireball. I don’t know what DF would’ve wound up looking and reading like if not for Dean Allen, but it wouldn’t look or read like it did and does. For godsake just read his old About page. It’s so good, and so Dean.

On the indie web of the early 2000s, Dean Allen was the man. There’s just no other way to put it. He did it better than anyone, week after week, post after post. And then he just walked away from it. For a while, the long-dormant home page of Textism.com was replaced by a single word: “Retooling.” The thought that Textism might someday spring back to life made me downright giddy.

The closest I ever came to telling Dean what an influence Textism was on Daring Fireball was the following, in an email in 2002, after I wrote to him to thank him for a post on Textism — announcing the release of Textile — that described yours truly as “witheringly talented”:

Textism has been an inordinate influence on me; there is nothing else quite like it, but I wish there were.

Daring Fireball was only months old when I wrote that. We were frequent email correspondents in those days. He was, as you would expect considering his sublime entry titles at Textism, a master of the clever Subject: line. I helped him with the quote-educating algorithms in Textile. He helped me form the basis of Markdown. (I was badgering Dean with a series of “Why don’t you change the syntax of Textile to be more like this and this?” requests. Dean’s response was, more or less, “These are great ideas, but why don’t you just put them in your own thing?”)

A year later, Dean wrote me this:

Date: Fri, 14 Nov 2003 19:38:16 +0100
From: Dean Allen
Subject: Empty Coffee Pot

  1. I really really liked the OSX screen reading essay.

  2. Good job on the Waffle interview: you’re really establishing a Voice. Something most writers can only dream of.

  3. I plan to start corresponding with people again once I get over the guilt of not having corresponded with people while I went through the Samsa-like transformation from someone who got away with pretending the rest of the internet didn’t exist into someone who did not.

Yr lad,

- dca

(The “OSX screen reading essay” was this 2,900-word exegesis on the improvements to text rendering in Mac OS X 10.3. The “Waffle interview” was this.)

Dean Allen telling me I was “establishing a Voice” is the only compliment about my work that I’ve ever remembered. That’s when I knew that maybe I was actually hitting the notes I was trying to hit.

We lost contact in the years of his self-imposed internet exile. Our last email exchange was over seven years ago. Every few months, though, it would occur to me that I dearly missed Textism, and I’d think to write Dean and tell him so — and to tell him that his offhand compliment in 2003 was still something I thought about all the time. Thinking maybe he’d be pleased to hear that, and perhaps he needed to hear it. I never did.

I wish I had.

Apple Shuttle Buses Rerouted Following Attacks

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-18 00:37, modified at 00:51

Jack Morse, reporting for Mashable:

The tech giant runs shuttle buses full of employees from San Francisco to its headquarters in Cupertino every day, and, according to a source inside the company, someone is attacking those buses — and breaking windows.

On an internal Apple email thread viewed by Mashable, one Apple employee speculated that the culprit may be firing “rubber rounds” at the buses. At least one of the buses only had the outer pane of its double-paned windows broken.

In response, late Tuesday night, Apple emailed employees to alert them that an untold number of shuttles would be rerouted, adding 30 to 45 minutes to riders’ commute. Mashable obtained the email and has verified its authenticity.

Christ, what an asshole the guy doing this is. Looks like he’s hit Google buses, too.

Link: mashable.com/2018/01/17/apple-shuttle-attacks/?utm_cid=mash

Apple to Create New Campus, Hire 20,000 New Employees

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-17 19:53, modified on 2018-01-18 00:20


Apple expects to invest over $30 billion in capital expenditures in the US over the next five years and create over 20,000 new jobs through hiring at existing campuses and opening a new one. Apple already employs 84,000 people in all 50 states.

The company plans to establish an Apple campus in a new location, which will initially house technical support for customers. The location of this new facility will be announced later in the year.

Intriguing. This also seems to serve as Apple’s announcement that they plan to repatriate — and pay US taxes on — their overseas cash.

Link: apple.com/newsroom/2018/01/apple-accelerates-us-investment

Gorgeous 50-Megapixel Panoramas Shot on an iPhone at 20,000 Feet

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-17 19:49, modified at 19:51

These shots are amazing — but I have to ask: why an iPhone 7?

Link: kottke.org/18/01/gorgeous-50-megapixel-panoramas-shot-on-an

Farhad Manjoo: ‘It’s Time for Apple to Build a Less Addictive iPhone’

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-17 19:32, modified on 2018-01-18 02:17

It’s time for Farhad Manjoo to write a less eye-roll-inducing column:

Imagine if, once a week, your phone gave you a report on how you spent your time, similar to how your activity tracker tells you how sedentary you were last week. It could also needle you: “Farhad, you spent half your week scrolling through Twitter. Do you really feel proud of that?” It could offer to help: “If I notice you spending too much time on Snapchat next week, would you like me to remind you?”

This sounds annoying as hell. Being aware of how much time you’re spending in which apps is an interesting idea, but you can already get a good sense of that in the Settings → Battery panel.

Another idea is to let you impose more fine-grained controls over notifications. Today, when you let an app send you mobile alerts, it’s usually an all-or-nothing proposition — you say yes to letting it buzz you, and suddenly it’s buzzing you all the time.

Mr. Harris suggested that Apple could require apps to assign a kind of priority level to their notifications. “Let’s say you had three notification levels — heavy users, regular users and lite, or Zen,” Mr. Harris said.

Apple could set rules for what kind of notifications were allowed in each bucket — for instance, the medium bucket might allow notifications generated by other people (like a direct message in Instagram) but not those from the app itself (Instagram just sending you an alert to remind you that your high school friend’s mom’s brother posted a new picture recently).

I’m all in favor of controls to reduce notifications. But excessive notifications don’t make me feel addicted to my phone — they make me annoyed.

This whole narrative that our phones are “too addictive” is nonsense. When I was a teenager my friends and I spent hours each week on the phone. Regular dumb old landline phones. There was no problem with landline phones being “addictive”. We simply craved social interaction and an alleviation of boredom. We use our “phones” today for the same reasons. They are more of a solution — again, to our collective desire for social interaction and alleviation of boredom — than a problem.

Link: mobile.nytimes.com/2018/01/17/technology/apple-addiction

Study: 42 Percent of Republicans Believe Accurate — but Negative — Stories Qualify as ‘fake News’

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-16 21:26

Erik Wemple:

All those media-trust studies have a tendency toward the rote. Yes, we already knew that the public had little trust in the country’s journalistic organs. Yes, we knew that finding credible sources could be a harrowing pursuit for the public. Yes, we knew that an increasing portion of the U.S. public felt that the news was biased.

Yet this nugget from a new Gallup-Knight Foundation survey just about knocked the Erik Wemple Blog out of a decade-long media-research torpor:

Four in 10 [or 42 percent of] Republicans consider accurate news stories that cast a politician or political group in a negative light to always be “fake news.” [The corresponding figure for Democrats is 17 percent.]

17 percent for Democrats is a depressing enough figure. 42 is absurd.

Link: washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2018/01/16/study-42

[Sponsor] Aaptiv: #1 Audio Fitness App

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-16 22:08

Highly effective audio-based workouts by certified trainers paired with amazing music. Try for free.

Link: aaptiv.com?utm_source=PAID&utm_medium=DARINGFIREBALL&utm_campaign=2018NewYears

Alex Roy Reviews the Tesla Model 3 After a Cross-Country Speed Run

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-16 01:44

Alex Roy, writing for The Drive:

The Model 3 is a triumph of industrial design. Forget the naysayers. Ask anyone who isn’t a car person, or especially women — a group too often excluded from the conversation, despite its size and disproportionate purchasing power, by an industry yet to have its Weinstein moment — for real perspective. Starting with a clean sheet, Tesla has out-Volvo’ed Volvo, delivering the purest interpretation of Scandinavian design in automotive history. I felt liberated from the tyranny of traditional car dashboards full of knobs and buttons.

I’m not saying I’m opposed to analog controls and traditional dashboards. Quite the opposite. What I am opposed to is overly complicated design in either direction. The best iteration is always the simplest, and traditional car manufacturers have largely blown it in their respective efforts to integrate digital with analog.

He does have one major UI design gripe: the entire interface — visual, audio, and interaction — of the Autopilot system. But this is a glowing review overall.

Longtime readers may remember Roy’s previous mention on Daring Fireball, regarding his attempt to set the record for the Cannonball Run 10 years ago.

(Thanks to Nick Heer.)

Link: thedrive.com/new-cars/17280/tesla-model-3-the-first-serious

Hawaii Missile Alert: How One Employee ‘Pushed the Wrong Button’ and Caused a Wave of Panic

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-15 04:13, modified at 04:21

Amy Wang, reporting for The Washington Post:

Around 8:05 a.m., the Hawaii emergency employee initiated the internal test, according to a timeline released by the state. From a drop-down menu on a computer program, he saw two options: “Test missile alert” and “Missile alert.” He was supposed to choose the former; as much of the world now knows, he chose the latter, an initiation of a real-life missile alert. […]

Around 8:07 a.m., an errant alert went out to scores of Hawaii residents and tourists on their cellphones: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” A more detailed message scrolled across television screens in Hawaii, suggesting, “If you are indoors, stay indoors. If you are outdoors, seek immediate shelter in a building. Remain indoors well away from windows. If you are driving, pull safely to the side of the road and seek shelter in a building or lay on the floor.”

This is just terrible, terrible user interface design.

Link: washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2018/01/14/hawaii

Jamf Now

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-14 01:47

My thanks to Jamf for once again sponsoring the DF RSS feed. Jamf Now is a simple device management solution designed to help anyone set up, manage, and protect Apple devices at work. Easily configure email and Wi-Fi networks, distribute apps to your team, and protect sensitive data without locking down devices.

Their latest feature: OS updates. Keep your Apple devices running the latest versions of iOS and MacOS by initiating OS Updates with Jamf Now.

Daring Fireball readers can create an account and manage three devices for free. Forever. Each additional device is just $2 per month. Create your free account today.

Link: jamf.com/lp/daringfireball-jamf-now/?utm_source

Uber’s Secret Tool for Keeping the Cops in the Dark

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-13 04:45, modified at 04:47

At this point Uber should best be described not as a business or startup, but as a racket, a criminal enterprise.

Link: bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-11/uber-s-secret-tool

The iOS Economy, Updated

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-12 21:00, modified at 21:04

Horace Dediu, on the latest figures from Apple on App Store revenue:

A few observations:

  • Developer payment rate is now above $25 billion/yr. I’ve been notified via Twitter that this is higher than the revenue of McDonald’s Corporation in 2016.

  • During this year iOS users will be spending about $100 million per day for Apps. This was Google’s AdWords revenue rate in 2012.

  • The spending on App Store has been rising steadily, adding about $5 billion/yr since mid 2011.

  • Apps are the biggest component of Apple services and helped that segment gross over $57 billion in 2017, passing Fortune 100 level (net of developer payments).

See also: Apple’s cash illustrated — an informative graph.

Link: asymco.com/2018/01/08/the-ios-economy-updated/

Peter Valdes-Dapena Reviews the Tesla Model 3

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-12 20:20

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a review for CNN, the video seems like the “real” review, and the written article seems like an afterthought extracted from the video review. He makes three main points:

  1. The car drives and performs well, about how you’d expect given Tesla’s reputation.

  2. It’s expensive for what you get compared to other cars in this price range — but this point seems hard to quantify, because none of those other cars have Tesla’s excellent electric drive train.

  3. Having almost all of the controls, including things like controlling the air vents, go through the touchscreen is not a good design. He writes:

    To do almost anything, from adjusting the mirrors to tweaking the car’s speed while driving in Autopilot, I had to use the screen. There are two unmarked knobs on the steering that are involved in various functions but, before you can use the knobs, you have to poke around on the big screen first. It’s annoying and most people will hate it. More importantly, it’s terribly distracting.

I feel like #3 is by far the most interesting point, but Valdes-Dapena seems ill-equipped to make it. He just says it’s very annoying, rather than explaining or illustrating why it’s annoying. Perhaps because he’s used to writing about cars, not about user interfaces?

I’ve long been frustrated by the fact that car reviews seldom devote attention or expertise to the design of the controls of the car. They matter a lot to me (shocker, I know), but I think they matter a lot to everyone, whether they think about control design consciously or not. The Model 3’s touchscreen centric design is so radical, it deserves a thorough review of its own.

Link: money.cnn.com/2018/01/11/technology/tesla-model-3-review

Facebook Purportedly Changes News Feed to Make It ‘Good for People’

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-12 19:57, modified at 22:33

Laura Hazard Owen, writing for the Nieman Journalism Lab:

Facebook is making big, immediate changes to News Feed. The company will now prioritize content from friends, family, and groups over “public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post Thursday night. News publishers that have relied on Facebook for traffic will suffer: “Some news helps start conversations on important issues,” Zuckerberg wrote. “But too often today, watching video, reading news or getting a page update is just a passive experience.”

Who knows what they’re actually changing, but I’ll take this opportunity to reiterate what I’ve believed all along: news publishers that have relied on Facebook for traffic are fools. The only audience you can count on is an audience you’ve built yourself and have a direct relationship with.

Casey Newton put it well:

So many publishers think they have audiences, when what they really have is traffic.

I think we’re about to find out who has an audience.

Link: niemanlab.org/2018/01/facebook-drastically-changes-news

Ben Bajarin: ‘Apple’s Indirect Presence Fades From CES’

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-11 23:16, modified on 2018-01-12 00:30

Ben Bajarin, writing from CES 2018:

We would go to CES and remark at how Apple’s dominance loomed over the show. Vendors of all shapes and sizes were rushing to be a part of the Apple ecosystem. Apple’s ecosystem was front and center with everything from iOS apps, to accessories galore for iPhone and iPad, and even companies looking to copy Apple in many ways. The last year or so, things have dramatically changed, and that change is further evident at this year’s CES.

Gone are the days of Apple’s presence, or observably “winning” of CES, even though they are not present. It was impossible to walk the show floor and not see a vast array of interesting innovations which touched the Apple ecosystem in some way. Now it is almost impossible to walk the floor and see any products that touch the Apple ecosystem in any way except for an app on the iOS App Store. The Apple ecosystem is no longer the star of CES but instead things like Amazon’s Alexa voice platform, and now Google’s assistant voice platform is the clear ecosystem winners of CES.

While many Apple defenders want to dismiss the momentum we are observing with the Amazon ecosystem on display here at CES, while Amazon is similarly not present just like Apple, I believe it is a mistake to do so.

It is easy to say that because Apple was never present at CES that the show didn’t mean something to them or their ecosystem. It is easy, and correct to say that CES was not, or never was, a measure of the health of Apple’s products. It is, however, incorrect and dangerous to miss that CES had been, for some time, a barometer for the health of Apple’s ecosystem.

It may or may not mean anything for Apple, but I do think this is an interesting and undeniable observation.

Link: techpinions.com/apples-indirect-prescence-fades-from-ces

Confide Popular With Republican Politicians

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-11 19:58

I thought that Confide rang a bell. I hadn’t tried it personally until yesterday, but now I remember where I’d heard of it: in the early days of the Trump White House, there were reports like this one from Axios that leaking staff members were using it to communicate privately.

Link: axios.com/confide-the-app-for-paranoid-republicans

★ ScreenShield — a Third-Party SDK That Somehow Allows iOS Apps to Prevent Screenshots

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-11 03:34, modified on 2018-01-18 22:29

From the announcement of a new version of Confide, a “confidential messenger” app:

ScreenShield is a patent-pending technology that allows you to view an app’s content on your screen but prevents you from taking a screenshot of it. If you try to take a screenshot on Confide, you will now simply capture a blank screen¹. ScreenShield also protects against other forms of screen capture, including iOS 11 screen recording, AirPlay screen mirroring, QuickTime screen recording as well as taking screenshots from the app switcher or by using Xcode.

We initially developed ScreenShield for Confide, but quickly realized that it could be used in a large number of apps — far more than we could build ourselves. That’s why we created ScreenShieldKit — to offer the ScreenShield technology to 3rd-party developers for use in a variety of different apps and categories.

While there’s a lot of technology under the hood that makes ScreenShield possible, the great news is that there are no strange gimmicks for users (e.g., it doesn’t require them to hold their finger on the screen) — it just works as expected. And ScreenShieldKit is simple for developers to integrate into their iOS apps, providing easy to use replacements for UITextView and UIImageView.

It’s an interesting puzzle trying to figure out how they’re doing this. Detecting that a screenshot has been taken is easy — iOS has an API that apps can use to get notified when the screen is recorded in any way. But ScreenShield is detecting it before the screenshot gets taken, so they can blank out the content in their text and image views.

I wasn’t familiar with Confide, so I downloaded it and kicked the tires, and the screenshot prevention works as advertised. Confide also sends a notification to whomever you’re messaging with to warn them that you tried to take a screenshot, a la Snapchat, and they immediately delete the message you tried to capture (I presume so that you can’t try to capture it another way, like, say, by taking a photo of the screen — see below).

My best guess as to how they’re doing this is that they’re using AVPlayer and somehow using FairPlay Streaming to block screenshots and recording. (Where by “my” best guess I mean the best guess of a smart friend who poked around the Confide app bundle.) Have you ever noticed how you can’t take screenshots of streaming video content in apps like Netflix and HBO Go/Now? That’s a feature in iOS (and MacOS — try taking a screenshot of Netflix video playing in Safari) for skittish video providers who don’t want us to capture even a still frame of their precious content. I think ScreenShieldKit is somehow using this to prevent screenshots or video captures of text or images.

If anyone out there has a better or more informed guess, please let me know.

If I’m reading their application correctly, Confide has also filed for a patent for a way to identify when you’re using another device to take a photo of your screen.

Wired: ‘How Outlier, the Underground Fashion Label for Nerds, Got Cool’

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-11 02:45, modified at 03:38

Adam Rogers, writing for Wired on indie menswear maker Outlier (a former DF sponsor):

Pants tough enough to deal with anything became Outlier’s signature play — trousers “for the end of the world,” as the folks at GQ put it. “We were trying to solve a specific cycling problem,” Burmeister says. “How to not look like a cyclist but still perform.”

They started going to textile conferences — Outdoor Retailer, then in Utah, was a big one. They wanted to find out where big companies, which they assumed used all the best stuff, got their supplies. But it turned out that the big companies of the world actually used the best cheapest materials.

As for the actual best, well, “we found that there was all this stuff nobody was touching. We were stunned. Like, nobody is using this? Nobody is using this?” Burmeister says. Military fabrics, equestrian fabrics, industrial fabrics — they were all for sale, or had been. They found, for example, a doubleweave with Cordura-grade nylon on one side and a softer nylon/polyester blend on the other. It seemed like it would make really great pair of jeans.

Outlier’s clothes aren’t cheap, but once you wear them, you realize how cheaply made most other clothes are. (Via Greg Koenig.)

Link: wired.com/story/outlier-tech-clothes/

Android Central: ‘Essential Phone Review, Four Months Later: The Sun Is Setting on This Experiment’

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-10 19:56

Andrew Martonik, writing for Android Central two weeks ago:

It all starts with just general app instability. Apps crash — a lot. More than I’ve experienced on any other phone. They freeze, stutter, lock up and force close. Sometimes you tap an app to open it, and nothing happens for multiple seconds. When an app calls up another one through a share action, it takes the same egregious delay. Sometimes apps open and switch just fine, but then randomly slow down to a crawl with inordinately long splash screens or loading animations. And it isn’t tied to just one app, it’s all apps.

The app issues seem to come as a result of general system instability that I haven’t seen in a high-end phone in years. Touch response is very slow, making everything simply feel sluggish as you tap and scroll around every day. The phone will often struggle to open or close the camera and can fail to save photos if you close the camera too quickly. I’ve had the entire phone go unresponsive for several minutes and require a force reboot (hold the power button for ~15 seconds) multiple times. […]

The camera app is slow and unstable and lacks basic features like viewfinder grid lines or any sort of customization or “pro” mode. HDR mode doesn’t really seem to do anything but take photos slower, and toggling it on still inexplicably turns the flash to “auto” mode. The slow performance directly contributes to missing shots, and the fundamentals of a small sensor with no OIS mean you get grainy and blurry low-light shots regularly. The Essential Phone’s camera is still so far from the competition.

In short, the Essential phone is a disaster.

(Yet oddly it has the same score from The Verge — 8/10 — as the iPhone 8.)

Link: androidcentral.com/essential-phone-review-four-months

‘The Good War’

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-10 18:39

Thought-provoking graphic essay by Mike Dawson and Chris Hayes.

Link: thenib.com/the-good-war

MacOS 10.13 High Sierra’s App Store System Prefs Panel Can Be Unlocked With Any Password

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-10 18:17

This one is relatively low stakes:

  • These settings are unlocked by default for admin users.
  • Entering a bogus password only works if you’re logged in as an admin user.
  • The settings in this panel aren’t particularly sensitive.
  • It’s apparently already fixed in the current High Sierra developer betas.

But, still, this is embarrassing given what we just went through with the very serious root-access-with-no-password bug. As a wise man once said, “Fool me once, shame on… shame on you. Fool me… You can’t get fooled again.”

Link: macrumors.com/2018/01/10/macos-high-sierra-app-store

Pop-Up Mobile Ads Surge as Sites Scramble to Stop Them

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-10 02:21, modified at 03:01

Lily Hay Newman, reporting for Wired:

These redirects can show up seemingly out of the blue when you’re in a mobile browser like Chrome, or even when you’re using a service like Facebook or Twitter and navigating to a page through one of their in-app browsers. Suddenly you go from loading a news article to wriggling away from an intrusive ad. What enables these ad redirects to haunt virtually any browser or app at any time, rather than just the sketchy backwaters in which they used to roam? Third-party ad servers that either don’t vet ad submissions properly for the JavaScript components that could cause redirects, or get duped by innocent-looking ads that hide their sketchy code. […]

An ad hijacking your browser like that isn’t technically a hack, in the sense that it doesn’t exploit a software vulnerability. Instead, it relies on the attacker’s ability to submit and run ads that contain redirecting JavaScript. But though they aren’t a critical threat to web users yet, redirecting mobile ads could create a jumping off point for attackers. And since you encounter the redirects while browsing on even prominent, legitimate sites, there’s nowhere to hide. Sometimes the ads are even designed to block your “Back” button, or keep redirecting when you try to close them, making it difficult to escape without having to restart the browser.

“I do think it’s new that the ads are so pervasive and are on first-tier publishers,” says Anil Dash, CEO of the software engineering firm Fog Creek. “These things used to be relegated to garbage sites, now it’s happening on the New York Times.”

The fact that ad networks are delivering unvetted JavaScript in their payloads is unsurprising but horrifying. They’re confined to your browser’s sandbox, but JavaScript-based ads are effectively malware at this point: they violate your privacy; consume excessive CPU time, bandwidth, and battery life; and now literally hijack your browsing experience.

(And now with Meltdown and Spectre, we have the added worry that JavaScript might be malware that breaks through browsers’ sandbox protections.)

Link: wired.com/story/pop-up-mobile-ads-surge-as-sites-scramble

Google Announces Plan to Improve URLs for AMP Pages, But Even If It Happens, Which Remains Uncertain, AMP Will Still Suck

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-10 00:24, modified at 00:40

Malte Ubl, tech lead for the AMP Project at Google

Based on this web standard AMP navigations from Google Search can take advantage of privacy-preserving preloading and the performance of Google’s servers, while URLs remain as the publisher intended and the primary security context of the web, the origin, remains intact. We have built a prototype based on the Chrome Browser and an experimental version of Google Search to make sure it actually does deliver on both the desired UX and performance in real use cases. This step gives us confidence that we have a promising solution to this hard problem and that it will soon become the way that users will encounter AMP content on the web.

The next steps are moving towards fully implementing the new web standard in web browsers and in the Google AMP Cache. Our goal is that Web Packaging becomes available in as many browsers as possible (after all Web Packaging has exciting use cases beyond just AMP such as offline pages, ES6 module loading, and resource bundling). In particular, we intend to extend existing work on WebKit to include the implementation of Web Packaging and the Google Chrome team’s implementation is getting started.

We’re super excited about getting this work under way and we expect the changes to first reach users in the second half of 2018. Thanks for all of your feedback on the matter and we will keep you all updated on the progress right here in this blog!

A bunch of readers have forwarded this story to me, based on my previous criticism of AMP. This announcement isn’t bad news, and might be good news, but at this point it’s all conjecture, particularly for browsers other than Chrome. Even if it all works out, it only solves one problem: URLs. It doesn’t solve the deeper problem of content being hosted on Google’s servers, rather than publishers’ own servers. In addition to ceding independence, think about what this means for search engines other than Google. One of AMP’s foundational tenets is that Google Search is the one and only search engine.

And at a technical level AMP still sucks:

I’m on the record as being strongly opposed to AMP simply on the grounds of publication independence. I’d stand by that even if the implementation were great. But the implementation is not great — it’s terrible. Yes, AMP pages load fast, but you don’t need AMP for fast-loading web pages. If you are a publisher and your web pages don’t load fast, the sane solution is to fix your fucking website so that pages load fast, not to throw your hands up in the air and implement AMP.

But other than loading fast, AMP sucks. It implements its own scrolling behavior on iOS, which feels unnatural, and even worse, it breaks the decade-old system-wide iOS behavior of being able to tap the status bar to scroll to the top of any scrollable view. AMP also completely breaks Safari’s ability to search for text on a page (via the “Find on Page” action in the sharing sheet). Google has no respect for the platform. If I had my way, Mobile Safari would refuse to render AMP pages. It’s a deliberate effort by Google to break the open web.

Seven months later and still none of these things work properly for AMP pages displayed on Mobile Safari. And I forgot to mention back in May that Mobile Safari doesn’t automatically show/hide its browser chrome as you scroll, like it does for any normal web page. AMP pages are also incompatible with Safari Reader mode, making them harder to read for some people, and impossible to read for others.

Sharing canonical URLs rather than google.com/amp URLs is just one of many problems with AMP, and the “fix” proposed here requires updated versions of every web browser in the world to work.

Link: amphtml.wordpress.com/2018/01/09/improving-urls-for-amp

North Carolina Congressional Map Ruled Unconstitutionally Gerrymandered

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-09 23:53

Alan Blinder, reporting for The New York Times:

A panel of federal judges struck down North Carolina’s congressional map on Tuesday, declaring it unconstitutionally gerrymandered and demanding that the Republican-controlled General Assembly redraw district lines before this year’s midterm elections.

The ruling was the first time that a federal court had blocked a congressional map because the judges believed it to be a partisan gerrymander, and it deepened the political chaos that has enveloped North Carolina in recent years.

More good news on the voting front.

Link: nytimes.com/2018/01/09/us/north-carolina-gerrymander.html

New Bill Aims to Eliminate Paperless Voting Machines

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-09 23:18, modified at 23:46

Timothy B. Lee, writing for Ars Technica:

“With the 2018 elections just around the corner, Russia will be back to interfere again,” said co-sponsor Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).

So a group of senators led by James Lankford (R-Okla.) wants to shore up the security of American voting systems ahead of the 2018 and 2020 elections. And the senators have focused on two major changes that have broad support from voting security experts.

The first objective is to get rid of paperless electronic voting machines. Computer scientists have been warning for more than a decade that these machines are vulnerable to hacking and can’t be meaningfully audited. States have begun moving away from paperless systems, but budget constraints have forced some to continue relying on insecure paperless equipment. The Secure Elections Act would give states grants specifically earmarked for replacing these systems with more secure systems that use voter-verified paper ballots.

I don’t know of a single voting or computer security expert who is in favor of paperless voting machines. The sooner we get rid of them, the better.

Update: Electronic voting machines in the U.S. are far less regulated and easier to rig than slot machines in Las Vegas.

Link: arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2018/01/new-bill-could-finally

Regarding This Open Letter From Two Investor Groups to Apple Regarding Kids’ Use of Devices

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-09 21:06

David Gelles, reporting for The New York Times:

Now, two of the biggest investors on Wall Street have asked Apple to study the health effects of its products and to make it easier for parents to limit their children’s use of iPhones and iPads. […]

Jana, an activist hedge fund, wrote its letter with Calstrs, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, which manages the pensions of California’s public-school teachers. When such investors pressure companies to change their behavior, it is typically with the goal of lifting a sagging stock price. In this case, Jana and Calstrs said they were trying to raise awareness about an issue they cared deeply about, adding that if Apple was proactive about making changes, it could help the business.

This open letter is getting a lot of attention, but to me, the way to limit your kids’ access to devices is simply, well, to limit their access to devices. I’m sure iOS’s parental controls could be improved (and in a statement, Apple claims they have plans to do so), but more granular parental controls in iOS are no substitute for being a good, involved parent.

See also: the open letter from Jana and Calstrs.

Link: nytimes.com/2018/01/08/technology/apple-tech-children-jana

AT&T Drops Huawei’s New Smartphone Amid Security Worries

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-09 20:50

Paul Mozur, reporting for The New York Times:

AT&T walked away from a deal to sell the Huawei smartphone, the Mate 10, to customers in the United States just before the partnership was set to be unveiled, said two people on Tuesday familiar with the plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions were not public. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that AT&T had changed plans.

The reasons that led to AT&T’s shift were not entirely clear. But last month, a group of lawmakers wrote a letter to the Federal Communications Commission expressing misgivings about a potential deal between Huawei and an unnamed American telecommunications company to sell its consumer products in the United States. It cited longstanding concerns among some lawmakers about what they said are Huawei’s ties to the Chinese government.

The letter, which was reviewed by The New York Times, said Congress has “long been concerned about Chinese espionage in general, and Huawei’s role in that espionage in particular.”

This sounds bad, but without any specific accusations regarding what Huawei might actually be doing to collaborate with the Chinese government — let alone actual evidence — I’m not sure what to make of this.

Link: nytimes.com/2018/01/09/business/att-huawei-mate-smartphone

Ad Tracking Companies Complain About Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-09 18:41, modified on 2018-01-10 00:50

Alex Hern, in a decidedly-pro-ad-industry report for The Guardian:

Internet advertising firms are losing hundreds of millions of dollars following the introduction of a new privacy feature from Apple that prevents users from being tracked around the web.

Advertising technology firm Criteo, one of the largest in the industry, says that the Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) feature for Safari, which holds 15% of the global browser market, is likely to cut its 2018 revenue by more than a fifth compared to projections made before ITP was announced.

With annual revenue in 2016 topping $730m, the overall cost of the privacy feature on just one company is likely to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

If this is accurate, it goes to show the outsize influence Safari has. Criteo is claiming that a new feature in Safari, a browser with only 15 percent of global share, resulted in more than a 20 percent drop in their revenue. This, despite the fact that Intelligent Tracking Prevention — the feature in question — doesn’t block ads per se. It only prevents certain methods of privacy-invasive tracking. I fail to see how this is a bad thing.

Link: theguardian.com/technology/2018/jan/09/apple-tracking-block

What Spectre and Meltdown Mean for WebKit

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-09 01:13, modified at 01:19

Great explanation from Filip Pizlo on the Spectre and Meltdown-related changes that have shipped (and will ship) in WebKit. Includes a pretty good overview of how the Spectre exploit works.

Link: webkit.org/blog/8048/what-spectre-and-meltdown-mean-for

How Meltdown and Spectre Were Independently Discovered by Four Research Teams at Once

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-08 23:54, modified at 23:56

Great piece by Andy Greenberg for Wired:

Yet when Intel responded to the trio’s warning — after a long week of silence — the company gave them a surprising response. Though Intel was indeed working on a fix, the Graz team wasn’t the first to tell the chip giant about the vulnerability. In fact, two other research teams had beaten them to it. Counting another, related technique that would come to be known as Spectre, Intel told the researchers they were actually the fourth to report the new class of attack, all within a period of just months.

“As far as I can tell it’s a crazy coincidence,” says Paul Kocher, a well-known security researcher and one of the two people who independently reported the distinct but related Spectre attack to chipmakers. “The two threads have no commonality,” he adds. “There’s no reason someone couldn’t have found this years ago instead of today.”

Link: wired.com/story/meltdown-spectre-bug-collision-intel-chip

90Fun’s Puppy 1 Auto-Following Suitcase Won’t Stop Falling Over

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-08 23:42, modified on 2018-01-09 17:26

Natt Garun, reporting for The Verge from CES:

Last week, 90Fun announced an autonomous suitcase that uses Segway’s self-balancing technology and a remote control to follow you around, leaving your hands free. We took 90Fun’s Puppy 1 suitcase for a spin at CES, and it’s clear that the vision of hassle-free travel is still some ways away.

We were only able to play with a prototype of the Puppy 1, which means that the design is not yet final.

You’ve got to watch the video. It’s mind-boggling that this was deemed ready to demonstrate publicly. This is like a parody of bad CES demos.

Link: theverge.com/ces/2018/1/8/16861048/90fun-puppy-1-autonomous

Pharmaceutical Ads in the U.S.

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-08 23:30

From Harper’s Index for January:

Amount the US pharmaceutical industry spent in 2016 on ads for prescription drugs: $6,400,000,000

Number of countries in which direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical ads are legal: 2

Link: harpers.org/archive/2018/01/harpers-index-401/

Electronic Toymaker VTech Settles for $650,000 With FTC Over Children’s Privacy Suit

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-08 22:39, modified on 2018-01-09 17:50

Shannon Liao, reporting for The Verge:

The Federal Trade Commission said today that the electronic toymaker VTech Electronics has agreed to settle for a fine of $650,000, to be paid within the next seven days, after charges that it violated children’s privacy. The Hong Kong-based VTech is also the parent company of LeapFrog, a popular brand for educational entertainment for children.

The FTC alleges that VTech collected “personal information of hundreds of thousands of children” through its KidiConnect mobile app “without providing direct notice and obtaining their parent’s consent.” The personal information included children’s first and last names, email addresses, date of birth, and genders. VTech also allegedly stated in its privacy policy that such data would be encrypted, but did not actually encrypt any of it. […]

The settlement dates back to the 2015 data breach that VTech suffered. By November 2015, about 2.25 million parents had registered and created accounts on VTech’s platform for almost 3 million children. At the same time, VTech was informed by media that a hacker had accessed its computer network and children’s personal information.

$650K is a slap on the wrist for a company with billions of dollars in annual revenue.

Link: theverge.com/2018/1/8/16865652/vtech-connected-toy-ftc-fine

[Sponsor] Jamf Now

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-09 03:00

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Daring Fireball readers can create an account and manage three devices for free. Forever. Each additional device is just $2 per month. Create your free account today.

Link: jamf.com/lp/daringfireball-jamf-now/?utm_source

Goodbye Android Pay, Hello Google Pay

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-08 20:33, modified at 22:34

Pali Bhat, writing on the official Google blog:

Today, we’re excited to announce we’ll be bringing together all the different ways to pay with Google, including Android Pay and Google Wallet, into a single brand: Google Pay.

This makes sense. Or better said, I don’t think Android Pay ever made sense as a brand from Google’s perspective. “Google Pay” works as a brand anywhere, on any device.

It seems to me that Google is stepping away from promoting Android as a brand, period. Take a look at the web page for the Pixel 2 phones and search for “Android”. I see one match, and it’s a small print footnote.

Link: blog.google/topics/shopping-payments/announcing-google-pay/

How to Take a Picture of a Stealth Bomber Over the Rose Bowl

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-08 20:19

Fascinating interview by Alexis Madrigal with aerial photographer Mark Holtzman:

Madrigal: So that’s the picture as you took it right out of the camera, or did you have to crop it?

Hotlzman: I always crop it a little. I had to rotate it a little. In the uncropped version, I had the whole stadium, plus some of the parking lot. Unlike film, the way you shoot digital is you shoot wider and crop it in. It’s hard. Things are happening really quick. It’s very fluid. I’m flying at 100 miles per hour. They are flying 200 miles an hour in the other [direction]. So, that’s 300 miles per hour. Things happen really quickly.

Just an incredible photograph.

Link: theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/01/how-to-take-a

★ Pressing the Side Button to Confirm Payments on iPhone X

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-29 03:18, modified on 2018-01-09 01:34

Occasionally I notice a burst of traffic to Daring Fireball from Hacker News. It’s always short-lived, because for reasons I’ve never seen explained, Daring Fireball articles always get blacklisted from Hacker News once they hit their front page. It’s apparent that a lot of HN readers do not like my work on the basis that they see me as a shameless Apple shill, but it’s a shame the articles get deleted because I like reading the comments. I feel like it keeps me on my toes to read the comments from people who don’t like Daring Fireball.

Even after being blacklisted from the Hacker News homepage, though, the comment threads still exist. I went through the Hacker News comments on my iPhone X review today, and a few comments about how Apple Pay works on the iPhone X caught my attention:


Apple made some interactions so unintuitive that even I was confused. One example is purchasing an app. Pre-X, you’d tap the “get” button and place your finger on the home button or enter your password. With the X you have to tap the button, look at your device, and then follow the most unintuitive animation to actually press the physical side button.


I’ve had the X for a few days now. The animation to press the physical button totally had me stumped the first few times! Overall I’m a fan (such as great camera and great screen) but some of the new interactions are taking some getting used to.


Yeah the explanation for the side button tap should be considered a straight up bug — I had to google what to do.

These remarks caught my attention because a technically-savvy family member was confused by the same thing the first time they tried to buy an app on their new iPhone X. They showed me the phone with the “Double Click to Pay” animation1 and asked me, “What am I supposed to double click here? It doesn’t work.” What they had tried was double tapping on the “Double Click to Pay” label on screen. When I explained that the animation was pointing to the physical side button, the proverbial light bulb turned on.

This is an interesting design dilemma. The reason why Apple requires you to press the physical side button to confirm a purchase with Apple Pay or in the App Store is because pressing the side button can’t be faked by an app. If it was an on-screen button, a nefarious app could present a fake Apple Pay button. With any normal app, clicking the side button once will always lock the screen, and double-clicking will put you in Apple Pay mode. Only Apple’s own software can override the side button like this. Double clicking the side button to confirm a purchase effectively guarantees that it was a legitimate payment experience.

But: people naturally expect everything they do on an iPhone to be done on screen. The screen is the phone — and that’s even more true with the iPhone X. Even with an animation pointing to the side button on screen, it doesn’t occur to people that they need to do something off-screen to authorize the transaction. They think the affordance on the side of the screen is the button they’re supposed to double tap (and they don’t notice the verbal distinction between “click” and “tap”).

I’m not sure what the solution here is, but I think Apple needs to come up with a better indication — perhaps something more explicit, the first time you encounter it — that you need to click the hardware button, not tap something on screen.

Update: This problem is not new to Face ID. Touch ID has a similar problem. Here’s a note I got today from a friend:

FWIW, Touch ID has been out for four years, and I still see people try to press the fingerprint icon that shows up in the middle of the screen. Can’t count the number of times just in the past six months. I don’t think the X’s initial double-click confusion is a new problem.

Alex fehners:

@jtregear @daringfireball Father in law repeatedly said his Touch ID wasn’t working. He was putting his thumb to the finger print icon on screen rather than the home button.

Iván Cavero Belaunde:

@daringfireball Not entirely a new problem. First time my mom was asked for her fingerprint for iTunes purchases with TouchID, the thought she had to put her finger on the fingerprint on-screen image, not on the home button.

Update 2: Some more commentary.

Joanna Stern:

Yes! On-screen language just needs to be rewritten with an arrow pointing right. I suggest: “Press the damn side button twice. It’s on the damn right edge of the phone.” twitter.com/daringfireball…

John R. Kirk:

Mock me if you will, but I went weeks without understanding how to confirm payments on the iPhone X. I kept double-tapping the screen. I had to google and read an article before I was able to figure it out.

Apple got this UI wrong. Very wrong.

Craig Mod:

This was my main crit of @gruber’s otherwise great review — the side-button double-press is really, really, really bad. Unintuitive but more damningly — it’s not fun!

This is in large part because the power-button-across-from-volume-rockers has always felt like a fundamentally wrong design decision. Double-press aside, I take 5-10 unintentional screenshots a day. At least they’re in their own folder now.

The best part of the iPhone X experience really is just how fun it feels — how it’s so totally tactile and responsive and fluid in a way iPhones have never been.

  1. The thing to keep in mind if you watch this animation is that the “Double Click to Pay” animation is aligned perfectly with the hardware side button. ↩︎

★ Apple Responds to Controversy on iPhone Batteries and Performance

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-28 21:51, modified on 2017-12-31 03:03

Apple: “A Message to Our Customers About iPhone Batteries and Performance”:

We’ve been hearing feedback from our customers about the way we handle performance for iPhones with older batteries and how we have communicated that process. We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down. We apologize. There’s been a lot of misunderstanding about this issue, so we would like to clarify and let you know about some changes we’re making.

First and foremost, we have never — and would never — do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades. Our goal has always been to create products that our customers love, and making iPhones last as long as possible is an important part of that. […]

To address our customers’ concerns, to recognize their loyalty and to regain the trust of anyone who may have doubted Apple’s intentions, we’ve decided to take the following steps:

  • Apple is reducing the price of an out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacement by $50 — from $79 to $29 — for anyone with an iPhone 6 or later whose battery needs to be replaced, starting in late January and available worldwide through December 2018. Details will be provided soon on apple.com.

  • Early in 2018, we will issue an iOS software update with new features that give users more visibility into the health of their iPhone’s battery, so they can see for themselves if its condition is affecting performance.

This is a terrific response, both in terms of explaining what has actually been going on, and in terms of the steps they’re taking going forward. Reducing the price of authorized battery replacements to $29 is really great.

The upcoming update to iOS 11 with more information on the state of the device’s battery is good news too. Right now, the Battery section inside the Settings app will warn you about the state of your battery — but only if the battery is in truly dire condition. What iOS should do — and it sounds to me like this is what Apple plans to do — is tell you about the state of your battery as soon as its condition drops beneath the threshold at which the performance throttling features kick in.

The funny thing about Apple is that their communication problems tend to happen only when they don’t communicate at all. This whole iPhone battery controversy erupted only because Apple had never explained what was going on, which opened them up to accusations of nefarious intent. When they do communicate, they do so with clarity, plain language, and honesty. And, when called for — as in this case — humility.

★ The iPhone X

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-27 02:36, modified at 19:51

The more popular a computer platform becomes, the more of a bind in which it inevitably finds itself. A platform is only “finished” when it is abandoned. It needs to evolve to remain relevant, but it’s difficult to change in unfamiliar ways without angering the base of active users. Adding new features on top of the familiar foundation only gets you so far — eventually things grow too complex, especially when what’s needed now is in conflict with a design decision that made sense a decade (or more) prior.

Eventually, inevitably, incremental improvements paint a platform into a corner. Something has to give.

This happened to the classic Mac OS in the mid-90s, when certain technical constraints of the OS made the platform seem anachronistic. The classic Mac OS had no protected memory and used cooperative, rather than preemptive, multitasking. No protected memory meant that every process on the system could read and write anywhere in RAM — both the memory of other processes and the memory of the OS itself. Cooperative multitasking meant that each app decided when to give up the CPU to other processes. If an app wanted to use the entire CPU, it could. In a sense, from today’s perspective, the original Mac was effectively just one process, and apps were more akin to plugins running within that process. In 1984, these were utterly reasonable design decisions. Protected memory, pre-emptive multitasking, and a powerful OS kernel just weren’t feasible on a computer with an 8 Mhz CPU and 128 kilobytes (kilobytes!) of RAM. In fact, there was no multitasking at all on the original Mac until Andy Hertzfeld released Switcher in April 1985 — the forerunner of MultiFinder.1

The problem mid-90s Apple faced is that the Mac was popular because of its thriving library of excellent third-party software, but in trouble because of the creakiness of its underlying OS. But Apple couldn’t truly modernize the OS without breaking the application software — which is exactly what happened with Mac OS X. Old software ran in a virtual “Classic” environment — essentially, a virtualized version of the old classic Mac OS running within the modern Mac OS X. New software — apps that took advantage of Mac OS X’s modern APIs, new features, and new look-and-feel — needed to be written using different (Cocoa) or updated (Carbon) APIs. The transition worked, as evidenced by the Mac’s continued success today, but it took years — arguably close to a decade. And it was a painful, jarring transition for everyone involved: users, developers, and Apple itself.

With the iPhone X, Apple is attempting something I believe to be unprecedented — a complete ground-up rethinking of a fabulously popular and successful platform, without a disruptive, painful transition.

There are several parallels between the original 2007 iPhone and the original 1984 Macintosh. Both introduced new fundamental paradigms that quickly became the standards on competing platforms — the GUI in 1984, multitouch in 2007. Both were created by relatively small teams, led by Steve Jobs. But the biggest similarity — or at least the one most salient to this discussion — is that both were burdened at the outset by severe technical limitations. An 8 Mhz CPU, 128 KB of RAM, and 400 KB floppy disks (the original Mac’s only form of storage) were not enough. Likewise, the original iPhone’s CPU, 128 MB of RAM, and EDGE-based cellular networking were not enough. That both products succeeded — and became downright beloved, despite their technical limits — is testimony to the genius and talent of the designers and engineers who brought them to life.

There is a fundamental difference: the barrier the iPhone ran up against a decade into life wasn’t technical (as with the aforementioned architectural shortcomings of the classic Mac OS2), but rather conceptual. Here are some of the landmark changes to the iPhone as a platform over its decade of existence:

  • iPhone 4 (2010): Retina display.
  • iPhone 5 (2012): Aspect ratio changes from 3:2 to 16:9.
  • iPhone 5S (2013): Touch ID.
  • iOS 7 (2013): Cosmetic reboot of user interface.
  • iPhone 6 and 6 Plus (2014): Larger screens.

Ultimately these were all evolutions of the original iPhone, though. There is a clear evolutionary path from 2007’s original iPhone to 2017’s iPad Pro and iPhone 8 models. The home button gained a superpower with the iPhone 5S — the ability to authenticate your identity by fingerprint — but only in addition to everything it did before. There were always two things and only two things on the front face of an iOS device — the touchscreen display and the home button. In fact, the iPhone X changes iOS in more fundamental ways than even the iPad did. In terms of the role between the display and the home button, the iPad really was — and remains today — “just a big iPhone”.

The iPhone X, however, creates a schism, akin to a reboot of the franchise.

Apple hasn’t called attention to this, but effectively there are two versions of iOS 11 — I’ll call them “iOS 11 X”, which runs only on iPhone X, and “iOS 11 Classic”, which runs on everything else.

The fundamental premise of iOS Classic is that a running app gets the entire display, and the home button is how you interact with the system to get out of the current app and into another. Before Touch ID, the home button was even labeled with a generic empty “app” icon, an iconographic touch of brilliance.3

Over time, the home button’s responsibilities grew to encompass these essential roles:

  • Single-click with display off: wakes the device.
  • Single-click with display on: takes you to home screen.
  • Double-click: takes you to multitasking switcher.
  • Triple-click: configurable accessibility shortcut.
  • Rest finger: authenticate with Touch ID.
  • Double-tap (without clicking): invoke Reachability.
  • Press-and-hold: invoke Siri.

In iOS 11 X, almost every role of the home button has been subsumed by the display, with the remainder reassigned to the side button:

  • Wake the device: tap the display.
  • Go to the home screen: short swipe up from the bottom of display.
  • Go to the multitasking switcher: longer swipe up from the bottom.
  • Even better way to multitask: just swipe sideways on the home indicator.
  • Accessibility shortcut: triple-click the side button.
  • Authenticate: just look at the display.
  • Reachability: swipe down on the bottom edge of display.
  • Siri: press-and-hold side button.

The first few days using an iPhone X were rocky for me. My thumb kept reaching for the home button that wasn’t there, particularly for multitasking. After a week, it started feeling normal. Today, on the cusp of two months of use, I’m like “What’s a home button?” In fact, my acclimation to the iPhone X has made using an iPad feel anachronistic — I want to swipe up from the bottom to go home there too.

In short, with the iPhone X Apple took a platform with two primary means of interacting with the apps — a touchscreen and a home button — removed one of them, and created a better, more integrated, more organic experience.

One of the things Apple created to enable this has gotten a lot of attention: Face ID. But a few of the other things they’ve done to enable this have gone largely under the radar. Tapping anywhere on the display to wake it is so natural, it makes me wonder how we did without it for so long. (This is another frustration I have trying to use an iPad now — I tap the screen expecting it to wake up. It seems silly that I need to press a button.) The iPhone X display does not, alas, offer the ProMotion feature introduced with the latest iPad Pros, which allows for dynamic screen refresh rates of up to 120 Hz. But it does track touch input at 120 Hz, double the rate of all other iPhones. The result of this is that the animations for gestures track your finger better. It feels less like an animation that is playing in response to your touch and more like your finger is actually manipulating and moving things on screen as though they are real objects. Of the numerous new technologies embedded in the iPhone X, the 120 Hz refresh rate for touch tracking is almost certainly the least important, but it really does contribute to making gestures feel like the one true way to interact with the system.

Tapping the display to wake the device, seeing a list of truncated notifications on the lock screen, and then seeing those notifications expand to preview their content once you’re recognized by Face ID — this just makes the iPhone X feel alive in a way that no other device does. You tap it to get its attention, and it recognizes that you are you.

The lock screen is far more useful now: you can just tap any notification to jump to it. With Touch ID, after you tap a particular notification in the middle of the display, you then must move your finger down to the home button to authenticate. I always found that annoying. Now that I’m used to the iPhone X, I find it to be intolerable.

Face ID is not a win versus Touch ID in every single way. There are trade-offs, primarily scenarios where Face ID fails. (It does seem to work with most sunglasses, for example, but not with Ray Bans, which, alas, happen to be my preferred brand.)

Consider the aforementioned process of opening a notification from the lock screen. Touch ID adds an extra step, every time, even when it works perfectly. Face ID is not perfect — it’s true that I wind up either authenticating a second time or resorting to entering my PIN more often than with Touch ID — but it only adds these extra steps when it fails for some reason. When it works perfectly, which for me is the vast majority of the time, the effect is sublime. It really does feel like my iPhone has no passcode protecting it. That was never true for Touch ID. Touch ID feels like a better way to unlock your device. Face ID feels like your device isn’t even locked.

This was the way the iPhone was meant to be used. When Steve Jobs demoed the original iPhone on stage at Macworld Expo in January 2007, it was just “slide to unlock”. There was no PIN. One of the ways the world has changed in the last decade is that we’re no longer naive about device security. I’m pretty sure I used my iPhones with no PIN code for a few years. Slide to unlock was fun. Entering a PIN is no fun.

Thanks to Face ID, no-PIN “slide to unlock” is back. This, to me, epitomizes the iPhone X. In ways small and large, it changes fundamental aspects of using an iPhone. But it does so in ways that are faithful to the spirit of the original iPhone.

It’s the big picture that interests me most about the iPhone X. Not this device, in particular, with this particular display (which is terrific), this particular camera system (which is terrific), etc. — but the ways it changes fundamental aspects of the platform, laying the groundwork for the next decade of iterative year-over-year improvements. But some particular details of this device are worth calling attention to:

  • Apple Pay moving to Face ID has been a win for me. You now trigger it by double-clicking the side button. One of the things I find interesting about this change is that while it breaks from how Apple Pay works on other iPhones, it is consistent with how you invoke Apple Pay on Apple Watch. Same thing with being able to tap the display to wake it up — it’s now the same as on Apple Watch.

  • The camera bump is bigger and more prominent than on any other iPhone, but somehow, to me, that makes it less objectionable. It’s a thing now. Whereas the first bumps, on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, were like blemishes. If you’re going to have a bump, have a fucking bump. I also like that the sides of the iPhone X camera bump are perpendicular to the back of the phone, not sloped. It looks less like a mere lens on the back of the phone and more like a whole camera on the back of the phone.

  • After a few weeks, I became annoyed by the home indicator. Making it completely white or black is perhaps a good idea for new users, to make the affordance as visually prominent as possible. But once you get used to it, its extreme visual prominence gets in the way. I wish that it were more subtle, probably translucent. I expect the home indicator to become more subtle in future versions of iOS.4

  • When an alarm from the built-in Clock app fires, it fades out in volume as soon as you look at the display. This is utterly charming.

  • The hardware mute switch remains. If ever there were a time when Apple might get rid of it, iPhone X would have been it. That it remains on iPhone X suggests to me that Apple sees it as here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. If, like me, you love the mute switch, you might be thinking “Well of course they kept the mute switch, it would be terrible if they got rid of it.” But they removed it from the iPad a few years ago, and Apple is famously averse to physical buttons (cf. the Touch Bar on the new MacBook Pros). And for reasons I’ve never been able to understand, Android handset makers seem willing to copy everything and anything from Apple they can get away with (and even things they can’t get away with), but almost none have copied the iPhone’s mute switch, despite the fact that it’s extremely useful.

  • Stainless steel looks and feels so much more luxurious than aluminum. The iPhone X doesn’t feel bigger than an iPhone 7 or 8 in my hand or pocket, but it does feel heavier and more serious.

  • True Tone epitomizes the sort of feature that you stop noticing on the devices that have it, but which ruins you for devices that don’t. Retina resolution was like this, too. Since switching to the iPhone X, I’ve gone entire weeks without once thinking about True Tone at all. But if I pick up or glance at an iPhone without it, I’m skeeved out.

  • One of the best ways to judge iPhone X after using it for a few weeks is to go back to an iPhone 7 (or any other previous iPhone). Things I notice instantly: the display looks very small, the colors look too cool at night (because of the aforementioned lack of True Tone), and the perfectly square corners of the display seem downright crude. The round display corners seemed like something that might feel gimmicky, but in practice, they feel organic and refined. As a wise man once pointed out, rectangles with round corners are everywhere. As with True Tone, I stopped noticing the round corners on the iPhone X, but started noticing and being annoyed by the square corners on other iOS devices.

  • I don’t notice the notch when using the phone in portrait orientation, and I only hold the phone in landscape when watching video, using the camera, or playing a game. And I don’t play many games. But Apple really should hide the notch in landscape (which, in fact, they do for the Camera app). Last week I was playing Desert Golfing5 — a game that’s been updated to embrace the notch — and on one hole my ball went to the edge of the display and was hidden by the notch. I “fixed” it by rotating the phone 180 degrees to put the notch on the other side, but that’s ridiculous.

  • The chins and foreheads on other iPhones now stick out to me far more than the notch on the X. They just scream “Wasted space!” to me.

  • On the iPhone X, iOS 11 now uses small colored pill-shaped indicators in the top left “ear” when the phone is hosting an active hotspot session (blue), there’s an active mapping navigation session (blue), there’s a phone call in the background (green), or the screen is being recorded (red). With iOS Classic, these indicators use the same colors, but they take up the entirety of the status bar. The old design for these indicators gave them too much visual prominence, and completely prevented you from tapping the status bar to scroll the current view to the top. It never made any sense that you couldn’t use the scroll-to-top shortcut just because one of these indicators was active — every time I ran into that, it would occur to me that it was a clumsy design. On iPhone X these indicators finally feel like they have a proper home.

  • The new status bar no longer has room for the numeric battery percentage. You can see the numeric percentage in Control Center, and on the lock screen while the device is charging, but there is no option for an always-on numeric battery percentage. I’ve never been a fan of the numeric battery percentage — to me, all it does is induce anxiety. The approximation of remaining battery life gleanable from the icon is all you need most of the time, I say. But, some people disagree. If this remains controversial, Apple should consider letting people choose between the icon and the numeric percentage.

  • The new status bar design also gets the name of your carrier off the screen most of the time. (It’s still visible from the lock screen and from Control Center.) The carrier string in the status bar has always irritated me — it’s like they were getting an ad on my screen, even though I’m the one paying them.

  • The glass back of the iPhone X does not pick up scratches or “micro-abrasions” like the jet black iPhone 7 does. I see two small, very fine micro-abrasions on mine (a space gray model), which I’ve been using for well over a month without any sort of case. My wife’s (a white model) has a few too. You have to look hard to see them, though.

  • I still think iPhone X is too big to be the smallest iPhone. The device doesn’t feel too big in hand or pocket. As someone who has carried a 4.7-inch iPhone ever since the iPhone 6 three years ago, the iPhone X really does feel the same size, as a device. But the extra screen size from the edge-to-edge display puts a serious crimp in one-handed reachability. In addition to an even bigger Plus-sized version of iPhone X next year, I would love to see Apple introduce a smaller iPhone SE-sized phone with all the same features and design elements. I’m not holding my breath, but I’d love to see it. I’m not even saying I personally would prefer it (but I’d give it a try) — but it would be great for people who value one-handed reachability.

  • Is the higher price of the iPhone X over the iPhones 8 justified? The 64 and 256 GB iPhone X models cost $999 and $1149, respectively. That’s $300 more than the equivalent iPhone 8, and $200 than an iPhone 8 Plus. For that premium, you get a better camera, stainless steel (rather than aluminum) frame, an edge-to-edge OLED display with True Tone, and Face ID. But you also get something you can’t compare in a checkmark comparison — a sort of joie de vivre. Critics of the iPhone X’s higher prices seem to me to be arguing not that this phone shouldn’t cost so much, but rather that no phone should. As I argued earlier this year, if we have laptops and tablets that cost more than $1000, why not phones too? Especially considering that for many, the phone is the most-used, most-important device in either or both their personal and professional lives.

I don’t recall a single review of the iPhones 8 that didn’t mention the much-more-highly-anticipated iPhone X (including my own review). But you can’t understand iPhone X without mentioning iPhone 8, either. A few months after the iPad debuted in 2010, I wrote — trying to assuage the fears of those who saw the iPad as the end of the Mac — that the heaviness of the Mac allows iOS to remain conceptually light. In a similar vein, the familiarity of iPhone 8 allows iPhone X to reinvent anything, to break the platform’s foundational conventions.

No one is being forced to adapt to the changes of iPhone X. If you want a new iPhone that is familiar, you can get an iPhone 8 or 8 Plus with the same A11 “Bionic” system on a chip, a camera that is almost as good, a display that is almost as good, the tried and true Touch ID, and even new (to the iPhone platform) features like inductive charging — and you’ll save a few hundred dollars.

In the short term this fork in the platform is a hit to consistency. Unlocking the phone, going to the home screen, switching between apps, authenticating via biometrics, invoking Siri, taking screenshots, powering down the device — all of these tasks are accomplished in completely different ways on the iPhone X than any other iPhone to date, including the iPhones 8.

It’s unique in Apple history — if not all of consumer computing history — for the same version of the OS to present two distinct interfaces that are so markedly different, based solely on which hardware the OS is running. From a developer standpoint, iOS 11 is one OS with various different sizes (SE, regular, Plus, X, iPad, iPad Pro) and layouts. From a user perspective, though, the “OS” is how you interact with the system. Again, it’s as though there are two very different versions of iOS 11 — and I can’t stop thinking about how weird that is.

It’s nowhere near as different switching from an older iPhone to an iPhone X as it is switching from an iPhone to any Android device, for example. But it is different, at a fundamental level.

Why not bring more of what’s different on iPhone X to the other iPhones running iOS 11? iPhone X needs these gestures because it doesn’t have a home button. Classic iPhones could have supported them though — there’s no reason Apple couldn’t have added the swipe-up-from-bottom-to-go-home gesture to all iOS devices. And they could have then moved Control Center to a swipe down from the top right corner on all devices, too. I think they didn’t because they wanted a clean break, a clear division between the old and the new, the familiar and the novel.

And some aspects of the iPhone X experience wouldn’t work on older devices. You could in theory swipe up from the bottom to go home on a non-X iPhone, but you couldn’t swipe-up-from-the-bottom to unlock the lock screen, because that requires Face ID. Conversely, there is no room in the iPhone X experience for Touch ID. There is no “rest your finger here” in the experience. It wouldn’t matter if the fingerprint scanner were at the bottom of the display or on the back of the device — it would be incongruous.

What we’re left with, though, is truly a unique situation. Apple is attempting to move away from iOS’s historical interface one device at a time. Just the iPhone X this year. Maybe a few iPhone models next year. iPad Pros soon, too?6 But next thing you know, all new iOS devices will be using this, and within a few years after that, most iPhones in active use will be using it — without ever once having a single dramatic (or if you prefer, traumatic) platform-wide change.

The iPhone X is not the work of an overcautious company. It’s a risk to so fundamentally change the most profitable platform in the world. But Apple is gambling on the taste of the team who lived with the iPhone X during its development. Ossification is a risk with a platform as popular and successful as the iPhone — fear of making unpopular changes can lead a platform vendor to make no significant changes. Another risk, though, is hubris — making changes just for the sake of making changes that show off how clever the folks at Apple still are.

After two months using an iPhone X, I’m convinced Apple succeeded. The iPhone X is a triumph, a delightful conceptual modernization of a ten-year-old platform that, prior to using the iPhone X, I didn’t think needed a modernization. Almost nothing7 about the iPhone X calls undue attention to its cleverness. It all just seems like the new normal, and it’s a lot of fun.

  1. How multitasking came to be on the original Mac is a great story. Long story short, Andy Hertzfeld single-handedly created Switcher while on a leave of absence from Apple. It just goes to show how insanely primitive the original Mac OS was that something like multitasking — even if it was, technically, more like the illusion of multitasking — could be added by a third-party system extension. ↩︎

  2. Dating back to the NeXT era, Apple’s OS and API framework teams have proven themselves to be really good at building systems that, in their early days, push the limits of what is technically possible on the era’s hardware, but do so in ways that lay a solid foundation that scales for decades to come. It’s really quite remarkable the original 2007 iPhone’s OS and framework underpinnings could be traced back directly to a 1989 Unix workstation system. The same system now runs on wristwatches. ↩︎︎

  3. I find it hard to consider a world where that button was marked by an icon that looked like a house (the overwhelmingly common choice for a “home” icon) or printed with the word “HOME” (the way iPods had a “MENU” button). Early iPhone prototypes did, in fact, have a “MENU” label on the button.

    I truly consider the iPhone home button icon the single best icon ever. It perfectly represented anything and everything apps could be — it was iconic in every sense of the word. ↩︎︎

  4. Apple added a similar indicator under the cellular/Wi-Fi/battery icons in iOS 11.2, as an affordance to suggest where you go to invoke Control Center. Rather than solid black or white, though, it is translucent. This is exactly what I’d like to see Apple do with the home indicator. ↩︎︎

  5. My score to date: 4,134 strokes through 1,575 holes. ↩︎︎

  6. As for how the iPhone X-style Face ID/no-home-button experience will work on iPad, it’s unclear to me whether Apple has already thought this all the way through. Why, for example, did Apple just this year introduce a new small-swipe-up-from-the-bottom gesture for the iPad to show the new Dock, when the iPhone X suggests that a small swipe up from the bottom is the future of getting back to the home screen? ↩︎︎

  7. The way Apple wants software to handle the notch, in landscape orientation, is the one exception that springs to mind. ↩︎︎

★ Marzipan

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-23 20:28, modified on 2017-12-24 02:32

Mark Gurman had an intriguing story at Bloomberg this week, but the problems start with the headline itself: “Apple Plans Combined iPhone, iPad and Mac Apps to Create One User Experience”.

Gurman probably didn’t write the headline, but it doesn’t even make sense. iOS has no concept of a mouse cursor and runs only on touchscreen devices. MacOS has no support for touchscreen devices and requires a mouse pointer. “One user experience” is neither possible nor desirable. The truth is that this effort by Apple is almost certainly not about cross-platform applications but instead cross-platform frameworks for developers. It’s developer news, not user news.


Starting as early as next year, software developers will be able to design a single application that works with a touchscreen or mouse and trackpad depending on whether it’s running on the iPhone and iPad operating system or on Mac hardware, according to people familiar with the matter.

Developers currently must design two different apps — one for iOS, the operating system of Apple’s mobile devices, and one for macOS, the system that runs Macs. That’s a lot more work. What’s more, Apple customers have long complained that some Mac apps get short shrift. […]

Apple is developing the strategy as part of the next major iOS and macOS updates, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss an internal matter. Codenamed “Marzipan,” the secret project is planned as a multiyear effort that will start rolling out as early as next year and may be announced at the company’s annual developers conference in the summer.

Gus Mueller, designer and developer of the excellent Acorn, wrote an excellent piece reading between the lines of Gurman’s report:

I feel like this article from Gurman could have been reduced down to: “We think Apple might some day have a shared UI framework for iOS and MacOS. Apple could even create some sort of cross store bundling or a single store with a single binary for all platforms when using this framework (even though there’s nothing stopping Apple from doing this today). That sounds neat and wouldn’t it be cool if all platforms also used the same processor to boot? This may or may not happen starting next year, and it could very likely be canceled as well. Apple declined to comment on our sensational story.”

What about the crux of the article, that Apple is working on a shared UI framework between iOS and MacOS? I wouldn’t find it surprising. I could also see it being written completely in Swift (though personally I’d rather it be in Obj-C for maximum interop with existing frameworks).

But history is filled with cross platform UIs and write-once run-anywhere dreams. None of them turned out insanely great.

My only quibble with Mueller’s piece is that “None of them turned out insanely great” is way too generous a description of write-once/run-anywhere application frameworks. Most of them are terrible; none of them are good. Or at least none of them are good from the perspective of what makes truly native Mac and iOS apps good — which isn’t everyone’s perspective, but is certainly Apple’s.

There is a lot of work involved getting an iPhone app to work well on an iPad. That’s why you still see iPhone-only apps. Even with good new cross-platform Mac/iOS frameworks, there would be way more work involved to bring an iPhone app to Mac than there is to bring to iPad. There would be less work than there is today, but still far more than supporting iPad.

At a high level, the user interfaces for native Mac apps are written using a framework called AppKit. AppKit traces its roots all the way back to NeXTStep in the late 1980s. AppKit’s NeXTStep roots remain so pervasive today that the class names developers use while writing Cocoa apps for the Mac are still prefixed with “NS”.

When Apple created iOS, rather than port AppKit, they effectively hit the reset button and created a new-from-the-ground-up set of frameworks called UIKit. What AppKit is for the Mac, UIKit is for iOS (and now tvOS). UIKit was a fresh start — in short, a sort of “if we could do it all over again, what would we do differently?” take on AppKit. The result benefitted from decades of lessons learned and unwanted baggage dropped.

To name just one of many differences, where AppKit has NSColor, UIKIt has UIColor. NSColor and UIColor serve the same purpose, but they are not the same. Specifying an entire user interface can never be the same on platforms as fundamentally different as the Mac and iPhone. Specifying things like, say, colors, could be.

I’ve never seen anyone argue for AppKit to be brought to iOS. There have been many calls — ever since the first SDK for the iPhone appeared — for UIKit to be brought to the Mac. Guilherme Rambo wrote such a piece last year, “UXKit and Why ‘UIKit for macOS’ Is Important”:

The painfulness of working with AppKit is killing the Mac platform. There are some really awesome iOS apps out there which would benefit a lot from a macOS counterpart, but their developers simply can’t cope with the burden of developing for both, so they choose the one that’s most popular (hint: it is not macOS). Instead, people are making crappy web-based apps, shoving them on a .app with hundreds of megabytes and calling them “macOS apps”.

I didn’t believe it would be possible to have a single UI framework for iOS and macOS, but I changed my mind when I saw how UIKit works on tvOS. Think about it: it’s the same framework, but with a different visual language and functionality added/removed based on the needs of the platform:

  • UIKit on tvOS has facilities to work with the remote control, controlling focus and the parallax effect that is ubiquitous on the platform.

  • UIKit on iOS has touch input, gesture recognizers, toolbars and navigation bars

  • UIKit on macOS would have window controllers, contextual menus and statusbar items

It’s more than a little hyperbolic to say that anything is “killing the Mac platform” today. The Mac is thriving. But there’s no question that maintaining parallel iOS and Mac apps is more work today than it could be. And it’s also true that for many companies, native Mac apps are prioritized lower than native iOS apps.1

Gurman cites Twitter as an example:

For example, while the iPhone and iPad Twitter app is regularly updated with the social network’s latest features, the Mac version hasn’t been refreshed recently and is widely considered substandard. With a single app for all machines, Mac, iPad and iPhone users will get new features and updates at the same time.

That “will” in the last sentence is naive. If Twitter could somehow generate a “Mac app” from their iOS app without any effort at all, it would be a terrible Mac app. Nobody wants an iOS app running in a window on their Mac. At best, it would take less work than it does today to maintain the Mac app — but there’s no guarantee Twitter would do that work, regardless of how much easier it would be than today.

Gus Mueller:

There’s an easy solution for updating the Mac version of Twitter to have the same features as its iOS peers. Twitter has to care enough to update it. That’s it. It’s not as if there needs to be massive engineering efforts put behind it. It’s not as if the road hasn’t already been explored and the server APIs already exposed (which they must have done for the iOS version). They just need to put some effort and care to it. Tweetie for the Mac, which Twitter for the Mac is based on, was built from the ground up by a single person. All Twitter had to to was maintain it. And Twitter, Inc. couldn’t be bothered.

Caring is ultimately what makes true Mac apps Mac apps. Caring about the details, caring about the Mac way of doing things. No amount of shared frameworks between MacOS and iOS can make iOS developers care about doing things properly on the Mac.

Apple’s Mac Photos app is implemented largely using a private framework called UXKit, which is in many ways UIKit for Mac. Curious about UXKit, Rambo figured out how to create an app using it:

But the most interesting things are the UX-prefixed classes. Most of them are implementations of UIKit controls on top of AppKit. There’s UXLabel, UXCollectionView, UXNavigationController, UXViewController and much more. To see for myself whether I was right, I decided to try and build a really simple app using UXKit. The code is available on my Github. This app lets the user search for photos on Flickr and select them to see a bigger version, really simple.

While working on the app I noticed that it felt like I was working on an iOS app. […]

I think a developer who is familiar with UIKit would have no problem making macOS apps using UXKit. From what I know, the only apps that use UXKit currently are the macOS Photos app and the Pricing app (the one used at Apple Stores).

My concern with this whole situation is that even if this is all true — if Apple is indeed working on creating cross-platform UIKit-like frameworks for iOS and MacOS, and that the existence of such frameworks would spur more developers and companies to create Mac apps — it wouldn’t inevitably lead to the creation of good Mac apps.

Even Apple, much to my concern, has fallen short in this regard. Photos for Mac is one of the worst Mac apps I use. I love iCloud Photo Library syncing. Having the same set of thousands (tens of thousands, actually, in my case) of photos and videos in sync between all my devices, knowing that they’re all backed up on Apple’s servers, is a great experience. In terms of serving as a repository for your photos and videos, Photos for Mac works well.

But in terms of acting like a good Mac app, it does not. Even something as simple and fundamental to the Mac experience as drag-and-drop is all screwed up in Photos. When you drag an image out of Photos, you pretty much have to drop in the Finder first, then start a new drag with the new file copied to the Finder, before you can actually drop it into many contexts. Developer Ilja A. Iwas complained about this recently:

For almost a year now you cannot drag images from Photos to Safari, and in extension every other macOS application that uses WebViews, like our own GarageSale and many other 3rd party apps that work with images.

Imagine that: The default image handling app on the Mac platform cannot communicate via drag & drop with the default browser. And that’s been going on for almost a year now. On the desktop platform that used to excel in drag and drop!

Not a day goes by without frustrated users in asking our support team why GarageSale cannot receive drags from Photos.

Try dragging an image out of Photos while the main Photos window is in the background. It doesn’t work. You need to activate the window first, then drag. Any other file manager-type app on the Mac allows drags to be initiated from background windows.2 3

Now try this: double-click and hold on an image in Photos, then drag. (That is to say, double-click on an image but don’t let go of the button on the second click.) In Photos for Mac, this initiates a drag. That’s nuts. Double-click, hold, and drag is how you create a selected range of multiple items in a list — the item you double-click on is the first item in the selection, and the ones you drag over are added to the selection. In a non-list view (like icon view in Finder), double-click-and-drag does nothing.

In addition to being non-standard, this particular behavior can get in the way when you just want to open an image, because Photos for Mac doesn’t allow for hysteresis for pointer movement during a double-click. Most Mac users will never notice this, but when you double-click on something on the Mac, the mouse pointer is allowed to move slightly between the first and second clicks. Such slight movements are especially common when using a trackpad, but they can happen with a mouse too. You don’t notice because the result is always what you intended. In early versions of Windows, which lacked hysteresis, double-clicking felt brittle, if not unreliable, because slight mouse movement between the first and second clicks would render the double-click attempt void. So it is with Photos for Mac — try to double-click on an image in Photos but inadvertently move the mouse pointer between clicks, and you wind up starting a drag instead of opening the image. If you’ve ever felt clumsy while trying to open images in Photos, it’s not your fault — it’s Apple’s.

And don’t get me started on some of the keyboard shortcuts in Photos. To get back from an image opened in detail view to the list of thumbnails, the Esc (Escape) key doesn’t work — you have to use the space bar. The shortcut for this might as well be Esc-swear-Space bar, because even after a few years now, I can’t get used to it.

It’s as though Photos for Mac was created by iOS developers who saw a Mac one time and said, “Sure, we can do that.”

Again, I use Photos — but only despite its crummy Mac interface. Photos is a poor poster child for the argument that Apple should make it easier for developers with experience only on iOS to create Mac apps.

Long-time Mac developer Michael Tsai (author of EagleFiler and SpamSieve) has similar concerns:

This has long seemed like an obvious thing for Apple to do, but I’m not sure it’s good for the Mac platform. The upside is that we’ll get lots of ports of iOS apps where previously there was no Mac app or only a poor quality Web-based one. The downside is that I don’t want to be using lowest common denominator iOS ports. I like using a Mac because of the apps that really take advantage of what the desktop has to offer. I’m continually annoyed by the apps that essentially put an iOS-style interface in a window and don’t support standard Mac conventions or features. I also worry that bifurcating the platform with UXKit and AppKit apps will inevitably mean that Apple will focus less on enhancing AppKit, while at the same time doubling the surface area for bugs. Having two classes of Mac apps would not be good, but AppKit going the way of Carbon would be even worse.

Jeff Johnson, on Twitter:

There seems to be a big cultural divide between iOS developers who came from the Mac and iOS developers who didn’t. Many in the latter group are OK with destroying the Mac, and that’s very frustrating to me.

And also from Johnson (this tweet is the start of a good thread):

Something that crystalized for me yesterday is how afraid many UIKit developers are of AppKit. Which is unfortunate, because the similarities vastly outnumber the differences.

In short, Apple’s goal should be to make it easier for developers to create good Mac apps, and easier for Mac and iOS app siblings to share code. Apple’s goal should not be to make it easier to get iOS apps to run on the Mac in slightly modified form. And I think it’s nonsensical to think that Apple is working toward a single unified OS. The best reason for hope on this front is the recent redoubling of Apple’s efforts on pro Mac hardware. The iMac Pro was not designed to run iPhone apps.4

  1. The priority order at many companies is (1) native mobile apps, (2) website, (3) native desktop app. Priorities (1) and (2) are sometimes flipped, but native desktop apps generally remain third. One reason for this is that — as a general rule — only Mac users care about native desktop apps, and even there, only some Mac users. So for most companies and services, they never even get around to a native Mac app, because the website running in a desktop browser tab is “good enough”. I could probably list dozens — maybe hundreds — of examples, but just off the top of my head, think about services like OpenTable and Yelp. Native mobile apps, websites for desktop. Facebook is all-in on mobile apps, but I’ll bet they’ve never even considered building a native Mac app for Facebook or Instagram.

    And then there’s Twitter. When Twitter acquired Loren Brichter’s Tweetie, they not only had what I considered the best native Mac Twitter client, but one of the best and most forward-thinking Mac apps, period. First they let it languish, then they replaced it with a ground-up rewrite with none of Tweetie’s charm or appeal, and now it has gotten to the point where today it’s surprising they even keep their official Mac client around. Clearly they think Mac users should use their website. ↩︎︎

  2. Well, iTunes doesn’t seem to. But it used to. And if you’re taking your UI cues from iTunes, you’ve got bigger problems. ↩︎

  3. It’s also worth pointing out that iPhoto, which Photos effectively replaced on the Mac, also did some really weird shit with double-clicking (iPhoto would open an image on a double-click’s second mousedown event, rather than waiting for the second mouseup — gross), drag-and-drop (you couldn’t drag from iPhoto when it was in the background, and keyboard shortcuts (same thing as Photos, where space bar, rather than Esc, is the shortcut for going back from an image’s detail view to the list of thumbnails). So it’s quite possible that some of my complaints about the non-idiomatic Mac-like-ness of Photos for Mac are not the result of it being made by iOS developers unfamiliar with the Mac, but because they copied bad ideas from iPhoto. ↩︎︎

  4. Well, except for running them in the iOS Simulator, which it does with aplomb. ↩︎︎