The WSJ on Apple’s ‘Hard-Charging’ Negotiations With TV Networks 

Shalini Ramachandran and Daisuke Wakabayashi, reporting for the WSJ:

Some people close to the talks say Apple was reluctant to share important details, including how subscribers would navigate the channel menu. Comcast’s Mr. Roberts didn’t see Apple’s proposed user interface.

“How about you sketch it on the back of this napkin?” Apple was asked at one meeting, say former Time Warner Cable executives. An Apple official replied that the software would be “better than anything you’ve ever had.”

Of course Apple wasn’t going to show Comcast the interface. They didn’t show the iPhone to AT&T (then Cingular) back in 2006, either. And the fact that these TV executives are now talking to the news media about it shows why. Entertainment industry executives have notoriously loose lips.

Mr. Cue is also known for a hard-nosed negotiating style. One cable-industry executive sums up Mr. Cue’s strategy as saying: “We’re Apple.”

In 2013, Mr. Cue met with Mr. Britt, Time Warner Inc. CEO Jeff Bewkes and other executives in Mr. Britt’s office overlooking Manhattan’s Central Park. Time Warner owns HBO, TNT, CNN and other channels. Apple’s Mr. Cue arrived 10 minutes late and was wearing jeans, tennis shoes with no socks, and a Hawaiian shirt, says a person familiar with the meeting. The other executives were wearing suits.

The thing is, they are Apple. Apple wants deals with these TV networks, but doesn’t need them. Matthew Panzarino:

Translation: Apple wasn’t budging and can afford to wait so content providers are playing this out in the press.

Josephine Wolff: ‘The DNC Should Never Have Been Running Its Own Email Server’ 

Josephine Wolff:

The DNC is never going to be the equal of these companies employing thousands of engineers and managing millions of email accounts when it comes to security, so perhaps it should stop trying and let the experts take over.

That’s a suggestion bordering on sacrilege to many people who care about security, who believe real security and strong encryption are possible only when you manage your own data and encryption keys yourself. And it’s true that trusting a company to manage your email reduces your security in some ways. For one thing, it certainly means that company has access to all your email messages. For another, it may mean that law enforcement or intelligence officials can access those messages without your knowledge through court orders or mutual agreements with that company. So there are definitely trade-offs, and if those are the security threats you’re most worried about, and you’re equipped to configure your own server setup, then you probably should not entrust your email to a third-party provider.

If, however, you’re more concerned about your email being read by external attackers in, say, Russia, then the perceived security of handling all your own email may do more harm than good. And if your area of expertise is political strategizing and maneuvering, rather than encryption protocols and firewall configurations, you would almost certainly be better off delegating responsibility for your email to a company that knows what it’s doing.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since the DNC emails leaked — and in light of Hillary Clinton’s controversy over the use of a private email server. Should these organizations even be using email at all? Server-side storage makes searching and access to one’s account from multiple devices more convenient, but it exposes these organizations to huge risk. Mobile messaging with end-to-end encryption (Signal, iMessage, WhatsApp) is in many ways less capable than email, and eliminates certain decades old conventions like “forwarding”, but it’s inherently more secure.

Email might be too ingrained to walk away from. It’s universal. But the high-profile targets like the DNC (or the United States Secretary of State) running their own servers is certainly not the answer. What’s the best solution?

One More on the Quarterly Results Front: Twitter 

Mike Isaac, reporting for the NYT:

On Tuesday, Twitter’s ailing position among its peers was underscored once more when the company reported its worst quarterly revenue growth ever and only a slight increase in users for the second quarter. The company also signaled that its prospects were unlikely to improve in the short term.

Twitter posted revenue of $602 million for the quarter, up 20 percent from a year ago and below Wall Street estimates of $607 million. Its net loss narrowed to $107 million, or 15 cents a share. Twitter’s users grew 3 percent from a year ago, to 313 million.

Twitter’s advertising strategy has never made sense to me. My gut feeling is that Twitter is not long for this world as an independent company.

Facebook Reports Huge Increase in Profit, Almost All of It Mobile 

Over $2 billion in profit for the quarter, up from just $719 million a year ago. That’s amazing growth. Among their highlights:

  • Daily active users (DAUs) — DAUs were 1.13 billion on average for June 2016, an increase of 17 percent year-over-year.
  • Mobile DAUs — Mobile DAUs were 1.03 billion on average for June 2016, an increase of 22 percent year-over-year.
  • Mobile advertising revenue — Mobile advertising revenue represented approximately 84 percent of advertising revenue for the second quarter of 2016, up from approximately 76 percent of advertising revenue in the second quarter of 2015.

They’ve completely pivoted from a website meant for PC browsers to a mobile company with a slew of popular apps.

The New York Times puts this in context:

The rise was driven by strong mobile ad sales, as well as a steady ascent in its number of users. Facebook now counts 1.71 billion monthly active users, up 15 percent from a year ago. And in a sign of how indispensable the social network is to people, the amount of money the company can squeeze from each user globally jumped to $3.82, up from $2.76 a year earlier. In the United States and Canada, Facebook’s most valuable markets, the company makes an average of $14.34 per user.

Alphabet’s ‘Moonshot Projects’ Lost $859 Million Last Quarter 

Seth Fiegerman, reporting for CNN Money:

Alphabet, the parent company of Google, saw sales from its so-called moonshot projects hit $185 million in the quarter ending in June, more than doubling sales from the same quarter a year ago. But the company is losing far more money from those efforts. Losses for “other bets,” as Alphabet characterizes the segment, rose to $859 million for the quarter from $660 million a year earlier.

Those bets include risky, capital intensive projects like self-driving cars and Google Fiber, which delivers high-speed Internet. Most of Google’s sales in this group are said to come from Fiber as well as Nest, and Verily, a life sciences division. Those mounting losses may put a dent in Alphabet’s pitch to Wall Street that it can be more responsible with its spending.

Alphabet as a whole reported $4.88 billion in profit for the quarter, so these moonshots are well within the company’s means, but you can see why investors might want to see the company shut these things down.

They’re obviously worried about it. Last week they granted Conor Dougherty of The New York Times behind-the-scenes access, which included this observation:

What all these efforts have in common, besides imaginative power, is that they do not make any money. X’s budget and head count are a secret, but shareholders’ perceptions about the division were aptly summed up by a poster board in its Mountain View, Calif., offices. It had a picture of a burning $100 bill followed by, “Investors think we do this.”

And:

The combination of big ideas, lofty rhetoric and a strict code of secrecy has made X a source of endless speculation and conspiracy theories. The one you hear most frequently, usually from competitors and venture capitalists, is that X is a giant public relations plan to distract regulators from Google’s search business, which is under scrutiny around the world.

Cynical though that sounds, it points to something that seems fundamentally true: Many of history’s great corporate research efforts, like Bell Labs and Xerox PARC, have come from companies that were monopolies or close to it.

WSJ: ‘Google Profits Surge on Strong Ad Demand’ 

Jack Nicas, reporting for the WSJ:

Alphabet’s growth continued in the second quarter as companies bought more ads on its search engine and other products, while users increasingly clicked on those ads. Alphabet revenue, fueled almost entirely by Google’s advertising business, rose 21 percent to $21.5 billion in the second quarter from a year ago, or 25 percent on a constant currency basis. Excluding payments to advertising partners, revenue was $17.5 billion, beating analysts’ estimate of $16.86 billion.

Net profit for Alphabet rose to $4.88 billion, or $7 a share, from $3.93 billion, or $4.93 a share, a year prior. Excluding certain items, Alphabet earned $8.42 a share, beating analysts’ estimates of $8.04 a share.

Another interesting point of comparison: Samsung’s handset business alone generated about the same results as Alphabet as a whole last quarter.

The iPod Classic and Obsolescence 

Lindsay Zoladz, writing for The Ringer:

“Wow,” a man said to me recently on the subway, “I haven’t seen one of those things in years.” He gestured toward the scuffed-yet-still-sleek, aluminum-colored rectangle in my hand — a 160GB sixth generation iPod Classic. I blinked for a moment. We were not talking about, say, a quill pen, a monocle, or a bottle of Crystal Pepsi, but an electronic device I had purchased in 2010.

I knew what he meant, though. Technology moves at hyperspeed. Apple has created and helped universalize a particular kind of planned obsolescence — its products have to go out of fashion and/or break every few years, to ensure you’ll buy a newer one — and as a result, in the eyes of the general public, Last Year’s Model has never looked like more of an antique.

It strikes me as odd to state as fact that Apple’s products are designed to “break every few years” one paragraph after saying she still uses a six-year-old iPod.

Michael Heilemann, in a comment:

Eh… Isn’t it more that technology, and especially Apple, has a tendency to move so fast that obsolescence naturally occurs?

Exactly. The idea is even more absurd when you consider that Apple products hold their value on the resale market far longer than competing products. As I wrote three years ago:

If your car breaks down after just a few years, are you not more likely to replace it with a different brand? To posit that Apple customers are somehow different, that when they feel screwed by Apple their response is to go back for more, is “Cult of Mac” logic — the supposition that most Apple customers are irrational zealots or trend followers who just mindlessly buy anything with an Apple logo on it. The truth is the opposite: Apple’s business is making customers happy, and keeping them happy. They make products for discriminating people who have higher standards and less tolerance for design flaws or problems.

DigiTimes Hints at Updated MacBook Air With USB-C 

Cage Chao and Joseph Tsai, reporting for the notoriously unreliable DigiTimes on the industry’s slow uptake of USB-C:

Currently, Apple has decided to adopt the USB Type-C interface for its MacBook Air, while Asustek Computer and Hewlett-Packard (HP) are upgrading one of their notebooks’ regular USB port to the Type-C. Lenovo, Acer and Dell are still evaluating the option.

It is possible that Apple has a significant update to the MacBook Air in the works. But my hunch remains that they do not. If there’s any truth to the above, I’m guessing the above is actually the new MacBook Pro.

Samsung Posts Highest Profits in Over Two Years Thanks to the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge 

Harish Jonnalagadda, reporting for Android Central:

Strong sales of the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge have led to Samsung posting an operating profit of $7.22 billion (8.14 trillion won) in Q2 2016, up 18% from the same period a year ago. Overall revenue was $45.1 billion (50.94 trillion won), a 5% increase from Q2 2015.

The handset business accounted for half of Samsung’s bottom line, with the division netting $3.83 billion (4.32 trillion won) in profit on a revenue of $23.5 billion (26.56 trillion won). Samsung noted that the larger and more expensive S7 edge model made up over half of the sales of its flagship series, with the Galaxy A series and J series also seeing an uptick in sales in the mid-range and low-end segments.

Those numbers for revenue and profit are remarkably similar to Apple’s for the same quarter ($42.4 billion in revenue, $7.8 billion in profit). Android isn’t making money for handset makers in general, but it is for Samsung.

Apple Celebrates One Billion iPhones Sold 

Not bad for nine years, but even more impressive when you consider they reached 500 million just two years ago.

Update: Engadget, shockingly, filed the news under “finally”.

Apple Hires QNX Founder Dan Dodge to Work on Car Project 

Mark Gurman and Alex Webb, reporting for Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. has hired the former head of BlackBerry Ltd.’s automotive software division as new leadership at the iPhone-maker’s car team places increased emphasis on developing self-driving technology, according to people familiar with the project.

Dan Dodge, the founder and former chief executive officer of QNX, the operating system developer that BlackBerry acquired in 2010, joined Apple earlier this year, the people said. He is part of a team headed by Bob Mansfield, who, since taking over leadership of the cars initiative — dubbed Project Titan — has heralded a shift in strategy, according to a person familiar with the plan.

The initiative is now prioritizing the development of an autonomous driving system, though it’s not abandoning efforts to design its own vehicle. That leaves options open should the company eventually decide to partner with or acquire an established car maker, rather than build a car itself.

Self-driving capabilities have always been part of Apple’s car project. It’s obviously the future. Hiring Dodge seems like a big deal, though. QNX is one of the preeminent real-time operating systems. As Apple creates its own real-time OS, it’s surely helpful to have an executive with industry-leading experience in the field.

(This is Gurman’s first story for Bloomberg after leaving 9to5Mac.)

Howard Stern, Interviewer Extraordinaire 

David Segal, writing for The New York Times:

What I didn’t appreciate, until hearing Mr. Murray lay bare his deepest anxieties, is that since settling in to his new home on satellite radio, which he did in 2006, Mr. Stern and his show have gradually taken on an improbable new dimension. Scattered among the gleefully vulgar mainstays are now long, starkly intimate live exchanges — character excavations that have made Mr. Stern one of the most deft and engrossing celebrity interviewers in the business and a sought-after stop for stars selling a movie or setting the record straight.

“He’s truth serum,” said the comedian Amy Schumer, who has been on the show four times in the last five years. “It’s like you’re under contract to be totally honest in there, and even though it’s being broadcast, it feels super intimate and protected, even though you definitely aren’t.”

By all accounts, the metamorphosis has been slow — the result of a combination of therapy, his second marriage, mainstream acceptance and a sixth sense Mr. Stern has about how to evolve with the times.

“I couldn’t have done the show I’m doing now 20 years ago,” Mr. Stern said over the phone. “I’ve changed a lot. I’d be sort of pathetic if I’d reached this point in my life and I hadn’t. How else do you have longevity? There are so many guys who started out with me in radio, who have disappeared, because they can’t broaden their view of what entertainment should be, or get in touch with what they find to be exciting and fun and funny.”

Really good piece.

Apple Music Buys ‘Carpool Karaoke’ TV Series 

Cynthia Littleton, reporting for Variety:

“We love music, and ‘Carpool Karaoke’ celebrates it in a fun and unique way that is a hit with audiences of all ages,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet software and services. “It’s a perfect fit for Apple Music — bringing subscribers exclusive access to their favorite artists and celebrities who come along for the ride.”

The most recent installment with first lady Michelle Obama and Missy Elliott has grabbed nearly 32 million views on YouTube since July 20. “Carpool” segments to date have generated more than 800 million views, according to CBS.

Apple is definitely getting into content.

Apple Q3 2016 Quarterly Results 

iPad revenue is up, services are up, everything else is a bit down. But the overall results are slightly better than expected.

Benedict Evans on the iOS-Android Platform War 

Benedict Evans:

The smartphone platform wars are pretty much over, and Apple and Google won. But it’s interesting, in passing, to note the final score, and think about what it means.

Interesting back-of-the-envelope math, including a somewhat eye-opening conclusion about how many more Google Android phones than iPhones are in use today worldwide.

Google Phone App Now Identifies Spam on Nexus and Android One Devices 

Google:

Spam callers be gone! Today, we’re beginning to update your Google Phone app with spam protection on Nexus and Android One devices to warn you about potential spam callers and give you the ability to block and report these numbers. If you already have Caller ID turned on, spam protection will be available on your phone once your app updates to the latest version.

I’ve been getting two or three spam calls a week lately. Would love this on iOS.

Update: Looks like I’m in luck: I completely forgot that this feature is already in iOS 10. I’m running the iOS 10 betas on iPad, but not on iPhone yet.

Verizon Announces $4.8 Billion Deal for Yahoo’s Internet Business 

Vindu Goel, reporting for the NYT:

Verizon, seeking to build an array of digital businesses that can compete for users and advertising with Google and Facebook, announced on Monday that it was buying Yahoo’s core internet business for $4.83 billion in cash.

The deal, which was reached over the weekend, unites two titans of the early internet, AOL and Yahoo, under the umbrella of one of the nation’s largest telecommunications companies. Verizon bought AOL for $4.4 billion last year. Now it will add Yahoo’s consumer services — search, news, finance, sports, video, email and the Tumblr social network — to a portfolio that includes AOL as well as popular sites like The Huffington Post.

Good luck with that.

In an interview, Ms. Mayer said, “I plan to stay. I love Yahoo and I want to see it into its next chapter.” But she and Tim Armstrong, the chief executive of AOL, said it had not yet been decided if she would have a role at the company after the deal closed in early 2017.

If she is terminated, she will be due severance of about $57 million. If she received that payout, her total compensation from Yahoo for her service so far would be about $218 million, according to the compensation research firm Equilar.

Translation: She’s gone.

WSJ: ‘Apple Taps Bob Mansfield to Oversee Car Project’ 

Big scoop from Daisuke Wakabayashi:

Until recently, Mr. Mansfield — who, along with design chief Jony Ive, was one of the few executives to appear in Apple’s carefully-crafted product announcement videos — had all but retreated from the company aside from the occasional visit, these people said. Earlier this month, employees at Apple noticed in the company directory that all the senior managers on the car project were now reporting to Mr. Mansfield, they said.

An Apple spokesman declined to comment on personnel matters. Mr. Mansfield didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

As sure a sign as any that the car project is full steam ahead, and totally serious.

Neil Young’s PonoMusic Store Goes Offline as It Switches Content Providers 

If not for this article in Billboard, would anyone have even noticed?

The Talk Show: Special Bullying Venue 

New episode of my podcast, with special guest Glenn Fleishman. Topics include security vulnerabilities on MacOS and iOS, ransomware, counterfeit products and outright fraud on Amazon, and online harassment and “free speech”.

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Squarespace 

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And even if you are familiar with Squarespace, they keep adding new features. If you don’t need a whole website, they now offer Cover Pages — simple, striking single-page websites. Ready to bring your small business to the world? Create a powerful online store with Online Stores. Explore which product is right for you. When you decide to subscribe, use the offer code DARING to save 10 percent — and to let them know you came from here.

The Last VCR Will Be Produced This Month 

Ananya Bhattacharya, writing for Quartz:

Japan’s Funai Electronics, which makes its own electronics, in addition to supplying companies like Sanyo, will produce the last batch of VCR units by July 30, Nikkei reported (link in Japanese). The company cites difficulty in obtaining the necessary parts as one of the reasons for halting production.

It can take a surprisingly long time for a technology to go from obsolete to truly dead.

Part Two of Elon Musk’s Master Plan for Tesla 

Elon Musk:

So, in short, Master Plan, Part Deux is:

  • Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage
  • Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments
  • Develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual via massive fleet learning
  • Enable your car to make money for you when you aren’t using it

Cogent read. Musk is a remarkably clear thinker. He’s often compared to Steve Jobs, and rightly so in many ways, but they sure aren’t alike in terms of revealing plans for the future.

Stephen Colbert’s Killer Week 

Some great stuff this week broadcasting live, after each night of the Republican National Convention. Jon Stewart’s desk piece last night was vintage Stewart, and Laura Benanti’s impression as Melania Trump was great. And we saw the return of Colbert’s conservative pundit alter ego.

NBA to Move All-Star Game to Protest North Carolina Bathroom Law 

Just in time for tonight’s finale of the Trumpster fire that is this year’s Republican National Convention.

The New Glif 

I’ve mentioned Studio Neat’s Glif camera mount for the iPhone many times before. It’s always been a great product. But now they’re launching an all-new version, and it looks really clever — it works with any size phone, in both portrait and landscape, and has additional mounts for things like microphones and hand grips. Their Kickstarter campaign is already funded, but I say pre-order yours now and put this project way over the top.

Nintendo’s Stock Has Doubled in Value Since Pokemon Go’s Release 

Yet another sign that the market, collectively, acts impetuously, but amazing nonetheless.

Birkenstock Quits Amazon After Counterfeit Surge 

Ari Levy, reporting for CNBC:

Plagued by counterfeits and unauthorized selling on the online shopping site, the sandals company will no longer supply products to Amazon in the U.S. starting Jan. 1. Additionally, Birkenstock won’t authorize third-party merchants to sell on the site, according to a letter the company sent to several thousand retail partners on July 5.

The memo, from Birkenstock USA CEO David Kahan, was obtained confidentially by CNBC.com.

“The Amazon marketplace, which operates as an ‘open market,’ creates an environment where we experience unacceptable business practices which we believe jeopardize our brand,” Kahan wrote from the company’s U.S. headquarters in Novato, California. “Policing this activity internally and in partnership with Amazon.com has proven impossible.”

Amazon has a real problem on its hands.

iOS Gets Thicker 

Luke Wroblewski posted an interesting side-by-side comparison of the Today view, Control Center, and standard sharing sheets in iOS 7 and the iOS 10 public beta. Much less transparency, more solid shapes in place of outlines, and more use of color. Wroblewski attributes this to Jony Ive’s “receding presence” at Apple. I do not agree. I think these changes were inevitable, no matter Ive’s day-to-day involvement with UI details. iOS 7 went to an extreme (remember the crazily thin weights of Helvetica Neue in the betas that summer?). A gradual thickening and increase in UI affordances (more buttons that look like buttons, card-like things that look more like cards; more discernible on and off states) seemed like the obvious course.

For what it’s worth, I really like the UI changes in iOS 10, on both the iPhone and iPad. This is the sort of thing that takes years of refinement to achieve. It wasn’t feasible for a 9-month project like the iOS 7 redesign to debut with this level of refinement.

Amazon’s Fraudulent Seller Problem 

Remember last week’s link about Chinese counterfeits polluting Amazon’s inventory? They have another problem: outright fraud. Emily Heller:

Tried to buy a doormat and here’s what arrived: a piece of foam with a photo of the thing I wanted printed on it.

Here’s an even more ridiculous example.

XKCD: Free Speech 

Good bookmark for those who persist in arguing that Twitter booting harassers from their service is an abridgment of “free speech”.

I will add: Expressing controversial or even unpopular opinions is one thing, and Twitter should remain open to that. Harassment is something else entirely, and Twitter should have zero tolerance for it. Empathetic human beings can tell the difference. Bullies, on the other hand, conflate the two. Milo Yiannopoulos getting kicked off Twitter had nothing to do with his conservative politics and everything to do with his leading a hate mob of racist misogynists.

I understand the concern that if Twitter starts suspending accounts for one thing (harassment), they might start suspending accounts for the other (expressing controversial opinions). That’s why Twitter’s solution needs to involve actual human beings. Rational people should have tolerance for ideas that offend them. No one should be asked to tolerate personal abuse.

‘The Internet Is Turning Us All Into Sociopaths’ 

Archived 2012 piece from the now-defunct The Kernel:

What’s disturbing about this new trend, in which commenters are posting what would previously have been left anonymously, is that these trolls seem not to mind that their real names, and sometimes even their occupations, appear clamped to their vile words. It’s as if a psychological norm is being established whereby comments left online are part of a video game and not real life. It’s as if we’ve all forgotten that there’s a real person on the other end, reading and being hurt by our vitriol. That’s as close to the definition of sociopath as one needs to get for an armchair diagnosis, though of course many other typical sociopathic traits are also being encouraged by social media.

Well-said. But the kicker is the byline.

(Via Charles Arthur.)

Dollar Shave Club: ‘Our Blades Are Fucking Great’ 

I’d seen this before and remember liking it, but Ben Thompson implored readers to re-watch it in his aforelinked piece on Dollar Shave Club’s $1 billion acquisition by Unilever, and I have to concur with his assessment: it’s one of the best product introduction videos of all time. 90 seconds long and not a word or moment is wasted.

Dollar Shave Club and the Disruption of Everything 

Ben Thompson:

Probably the most important fact when it comes to analyzing Unilever’s purchase of Dollar Shave Club is the $1 billion price: in the world of consumer packaged goods (CPG) it is shockingly low. After all, only eleven years ago Procter & Gamble (P&G) bought Gillette, the market leader in shaving,for a staggering $57 billion.

To be sure Gillette is still dominant — the brand controls 70 percent of the global blades and razors market — but there is little question that Dollar Shave Club is a much better deal, in every sense of the word. Understanding why Dollar Shave Club was cheap means understanding why its blades are cheap, and understanding that means understanding just how precarious the position of P&G specifically and incumbents generally is in the emerging Internet economy.

Fantastic piece — Thompson makes a strong case that the seemingly unrelated creation of Amazon Web Services and YouTube a decade ago created the opportunity for Dollar Shave Club to disrupt a titan like Gillette.

Exploring the App Store’s Top Grossing Chart 

Fascinating analysis and data visualizations by Graham Spencer, writing for MacStories:

One of the most striking things you’ll notice when browsing the Top 200 Grossing apps is that they are virtually all offered as free downloads. In my survey, just three apps were paid apps upfront; Minecraft (#33, $6.99), Grindr (#95, $0.99), and Facetune (#183, $3.99). The other 197 apps were free to download.

I knew intuitively that most top-grossing apps were free downloads with in-app purchases, but I wasn’t expecting the results to be so overwhelming.

(Also: What a remarkable game Minecraft is. Its staying power is amazing, and it is standing in lone opposition to the IAP-ification of mobile games.)

‘See if You Can’t Leave Me About a Good Inch From Where the Zipper Ends … Right on Back to My Bunghole’ 

Worth a re-link, for the sake of some politics we can all agree on: Lyndon Johnson ordering pants.

Twitter Permanently Suspends Milo Yiannopoulos 

Charlie Warzel, reporting for BuzzFeed:

Twitter has banned one of its most notoriously contentious voices. On Tuesday evening, the microblogging service permanently suspended the account of conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos, a day after he incited his followers to bombard Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones with racist and demeaning tweets.

“People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter,” a company spokesperson said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News. “But no one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others.”

This is being framed by Yiannopoulos’s supporters as suppression of free speech. These people are very confused about free speech. It’s simple: Yiannopoulos has the right to say and write whatever he wants. But Twitter is not a public resource. In the same way that a coffee shop or restaurant should never allow someone (let alone a mob of people) to harass other patrons, Twitter should not allow it on their service.

So kudos to Twitter for standing up to this troll. But it shouldn’t take a celebrity to drive Twitter to action. Twitter needs to systematically boot harassers at every level.

Joanna Stern on Amazon’s $50 Blu R1 HD Phone 

Joanna Stern, writing for the WSJ:

In life, you get what you pay for.*

*Exceptions: Costco wine, $1 New York City pizza and the Blu R1 HD smartphone, now sold by Amazon for $50. In those cases, the quality of the product far exceeds your low expectations.

Yes, you read that right, there’s an Android 6.0 smartphone that costs less than family dinner at the Olive Garden. It’s cheap, but it’s not, you know, cheap.

There’s a reason for that. Even though Amazon sells the R1 HD for as little as $50, on the open market it starts at $100. Why the discount? Ads. Sorry, “special offers.” Which are ads.

This is a much more Amazon-like phone than the Fire Phone was, and I suspect, more likely to be a success.

Drudge Report: Roger Ailes Leaves Fox News With $40M Parachute Amid Harassment Probe 

Katherine Krueger, writing for TPM:

The conservative link aggregator site Drudge Report reported Tuesday afternoon that Fox News CEO Roger Ailes was leaving his post as an investigation into Ailes’ alleged sexual harassment of employees is underway.

While the site’s signature blaring siren landing page featured the breaking headline, no source was immediately provided.

It would be hard to overstate the influence Ailes held over modern political discourse here in the U.S. Fox News changed the country, and Ailes was Fox News.

As for Drudge’s source — it has to be Rupert Murdoch, or one of his sons.

Update: 21st Century Fox statement on Twitter:

21CF statement: Roger is at work. The review is ongoing. The only agreement that is in place is his existing employment agreement.

But The New York Times reports that his tenure is all but over.

The Safe Haven of False Equivalence 

Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann, writing for Vox:

In April 2012, we created a major stir in the political world with a long piece in the Washington Post Sunday Outlook section called, “Let’s Just Say It: The Republicans Are the Problem.” It was adapted from our book published days later, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, and this was our money quote:

The Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier in American politics — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

As scholars who had worked for more than four decades with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, we faced a ton of scorn from sitting Republican lawmakers and outside observers for making this argument — and denial from most of the mainstream media. For reporters, professional norms and concerns about accusations of partisan bias dictated that the parties be treated equally, whatever the underlying reality. The safe haven of false equivalence led the press to ignore one of the most consequential developments in contemporary American politics: the radicalization of the Republican Party.

Particularly apt after the opening night of the Republican convention, which saw multiple speakers calling for the opposing party’s candidate to be “locked up”, Russian-style, and an opening benediction — a prayer — that described the opposing party as “enemies”.


Headphone Jacks Are the New Floppy Drives

Nilay Patel, “Taking the Headphone Jack Off Phones Is User-Hostile and Stupid”:

But just face facts: ditching the headphone jack on phones makes them worse, in extremely obvious ways. Let’s count them!

And let’s compare them to arguments against removing floppy drives from the iMac in 1998.

1. Digital audio means DRM audio

Restricting audio output to a purely digital connection means that music publishers and streaming companies can start to insist on digital copyright enforcement mechanisms. We moved our video systems to HDMI and got HDCP, remember? Copyright enforcement technology never stops piracy and always hurts the people who most rely on legal fair use, but you can bet the music industry is going to start cracking down on “unauthorized” playback and recording devices anyway.

I’m not familiar with how people are taking advantage of the “analog loophole” to do things with audio out of the iPhone headphone port that would be forbidden using the digital Lightning port, but now seems like a good time to raise the big question: Should the analog headphone jack remain on our devices forever? If you think so, you can stop reading. If not, when? Maybe now is the wrong time, and Apple is making a mistake. I don’t know. None of us outside the company seem to know, because all that has leaked is that the new iPhone won’t have the port, with no explanation why. But I say at some point it will go away, and now seems like it might be the right time. Also, historically, Apple has proven to be very good at timing the removal of established legacy ports.

Patel misses the bigger problem. It’s not enforcement of DRM on audio playback. It’s enforcement of the MFi Program for certifying hardware that uses the Lightning port. Right now any headphone maker in the world can make any headphones they want for the standard jack. Not so with the Lightning port.

We deal with DRM when it comes to video because we generally don’t rewatch and take TV shows and movies with us, but you will rue the day Apple decided to make the iPhone another 1mm thinner the instant you get a “playback device not supported” message. Winter is coming.

As an aside, whatever the merits of this decision, it’s not about device thinness. The iPhone 6 is the thinnest iPhone to date at 6.9mm. The iPod Touch has a headphone jack and is just 6.1mm thick. The iPod Nano: 5.4mm. The analog headphone jack is more costly in terms of depth than thickness.

2. Wireless headphones and speakers are fine, not great

Totally agree. But the rumor is that the new iPhone will ship with wired Lightning earbuds.

3. Dongles are stupid, especially when they require other dongles

External floppy drives sucked too.

4. Ditching a deeply established standard will disproportionately impact accessibility

The traditional headphone jack is a standard for a reason — it works. It works so well that an entire ecosystem of other kinds of devices has built up around it, and millions of people have access to compatible devices at every conceivable price point. The headphone jack might be less good on some metrics than Lightning or USB-C audio, but it is spectacularly better than anything else in the world at being accessible, enabling, open, and democratizing.

Apple is the company that brought us the 30-pin and Lightning ports, and whose iPhones, iPods, and iPads have never had USB ports. “Enabling, open, and democratizing” have never been high on Apple’s list of priorities for external ports. They’re on the list, to be sure. Just not high on the list.

5. Making Android and iPhone headphones incompatible is so incredibly arrogant and stupid there’s not even explanatory text under this one

Why would Apple care about headphone compatibility with Android? If Apple gave two shits about port compatibility with Android, iPhones would have Micro-USB ports. In 1998 people used floppy drives extensively for sneaker-netting files between Macs and PCs. That didn’t stop Apple from dropping it.

The incompatibility that matters is with Apple’s own devices, particularly MacBooks. Presumably Apple’s Lightning earbuds will work on iPads, too. But it’s going to suck having to use different headphones (or a dongle) for the Mac than you use with your iOS devices.1 But again, this is no different than the transition from 30-pin to Lightning. You have to start somewhere. (Unless you believe Apple should stick with the analog headphone jack as we know it forever — but I told you people to stop reading way back at the top.)

6. No one is asking for this

Raise your hand if the thing you wanted most from your next phone was either fewer ports or more dongles.

I didn’t think so. You wanted better battery life, didn’t you? Everyone just wants better battery life.

“No one” asked for the iMac to remove the floppy drive or switch from ADB ports to USB (at a time when PCs weren’t shipping with USB either, which meant few — I mean really few — existing USB peripherals on the market). There was a huge outcry when the iPhone 5 dumped the proprietary-but-ubiquitous 30-pin port for the proprietary-and-all-new Lightning port. MacBook Air fans are still complaining about the new MacBook’s solitary USB-C port.

This is how it goes. If it weren’t for Apple we’d probably still be using computers with VGA and serial ports. The essence of Apple is that they make design decisions “no one asked for”.

And as for battery life, surely removing the deep headphone socket can only leave more room for a larger battery.

Vote with your dollars.

We shall see. But I bet people will do just that. And in five years we’ll look at analog headphone jacks the way we look at all the other legacy ports we’ve abandoned. 


  1. Will MacBooks ship with a Lightning port in lieu of a headphone jack? If so, will they ship with headphones? (Probably not, I say. Cough up the extra $29 for a new pair of Apple EarPods.) Is this why we haven’t seen new MacBook Pros yet — because they’re waiting for the new iPhone, so that both can go Lightning-for-audio at the same time? Perhaps. ↩︎


Brief Thoughts and Observations Regarding Today’s WWDC 2016 Keynote

Venue

Moscone West isn’t big enough for 5,000 attendees to fit in a room, so a few thousand WWDC attendees always had to sit in an overflow room where they’d watch the keynote on video. That’s a major reason why attendees would line up at the crack of dawn, even though the keynotes start at 10 am. The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium has no such limitation, and it was nice to see (and hear) all attendees. The sound system there was just great, and the huge screen behind the stage was good too. I give the new venue a thumbs-up.

WatchOS 3

I was hoping for a thorough reinvention of the WatchOS UI navigation structure, and it looks like we got it. Glances are gone — an updated app for WatchOS 3 is a glance. Just tap the side button once to see the new “Dock”, and the apps in the Dock are live views of the actual apps. A conceptual simplification, along with a deliberate effort to reduce many common tasks to just one or two taps, is just what the doctor ordered for Apple Watch.

As for the purported dramatic improvements to app launching times and background data refreshing, I’ll believe it when I see it, but it sounds like an amazing year-over-year improvement.

tvOS 10

I’d be happy if the only new feature were the system-wide single-sign on for authenticating with your cable provider to use apps that require proof that you subscribe to a traditional TV service.

It didn’t make the keynote, but another change to tvOS that games can now require a dedicated gaming controller. I can see why Apple didn’t allow that — they wanted to push developers to support the Siri Remote as a controller. But some games simply require a real controller. That requirement was holding back the platform. (“Common sense prevails” is arguably the theme of this year’s announcements.)

The Newly-Renamed MacOS 10.12

I love the name change, but as someone who remembers when the classic Mac operating system was called “Mac OS”, I’m finding it tough to type without the space. Back then, “MacOS” was considered a typo.

The new “Continuity” features between devices sound great. Auto-unlocking your Mac with your Apple Watch is a very cool feature, as is the new Universal Clipboard. (That’s not really a Mac feature — it works from one iOS device to another, too.)

iOS 10

I don’t have time to write about all the new features that were announced today (let alone all the ones that didn’t even make the keynote), but looking over my notes, it strikes me that these are all very practical improvements. Everyone encounters the lock screen; Apple has made it more useful. Siri is smarter and can now integrate with third-party apps. Computer vision analysis of your photos — if it works well — will be useful to anyone who takes a lot of photos.

But perhaps the biggest change wasn’t even mentioned on stage. Most built-in system apps can now be removed from your device.1 Third-party VoIP apps can now commandeer the lock screen when an incoming call arrives — something that until now was reserved for the Phone and FaceTime apps. Likewise, third-party messaging apps can be specified as the default for people on a per-contact basis. iOS 10 looks like the anti-lock-in release.

iMessage

I’ve been arguing for a while now that iMessage is vastly under-appreciated as one of the most popular and best messaging platforms in the world. I think because it’s only for Apple devices it somehow doesn’t count in some people’s minds, even though there are (according to Apple) a billion Apple devices in use.

Messages is the most-used app on iOS, so it makes sense for Apple to spend a lot of time and attention on it. With the bigger emoji, stickers, and “bubble effects”, it’s clear that a lot of Apple’s work went into making Messages just plain fun. But the new extension APIs that allow for “iMessage Apps” strike me as turning iMessage into a genuine platform. One way to think about it is as an effort to move away from sharing plain text (and often ugly, unreadable) URLs that open in Safari and instead exchange software “objects” that are usable right there in the message thread.

Swift Playgrounds

We don’t have Xcode for iPad yet, but this is a start. It looks like a lot of fun and a great way to learn Swift or even just how to program, period. This is the most approachable programming environment from Apple since HyperCard. I’m interested to see whether Playground files wind up like HyperCard stacks. 


  1. Curiously, there doesn’t seem to be a way to specify a third-party app as the default handler for things like “mailto:” links, even if you remove the system Mail app. I hope that’s just something Apple hasn’t gotten to yet. ↩︎


App Store Subscription Uncertainty

From Lauren Goode’s interview with Phil Schiller for The Verge, specifically regarding the new 85/15 revenue split after the first year of a subscription (italic emphasis mine):

But Schiller insisted that it wasn’t any kind of “Apple tax” backlash or companies encouraging users to go to their own websites that drove Apple’s new subscription model: “It wasn’t done from a negative like that,” he says. When I asked about this, he stresses that it was “absolutely done because we recognize that developers do a lot of work to retain a customer over time in a subscription model, and we wanted to reward them for that by helping them to keep more of the revenue.” Apple can help drive customers to the original download, Schiller argues, but only the developer can keep the customer over time and “we want to incent them to do that.”

Schiller imagines scenarios where many kinds of apps that were previously single-time purchases could move to the model. Games that have an ongoing subscription-like program, ones that have a massive online playing world that require upgrades of game worlds, might make sense. He suggests many enterprise apps could move to subscription, and that professional apps that require “a lot of maintenance of new features and versions” would be a good fit.

That’s pretty much exactly what Schiller told me yesterday too, which colored my take on the breadth of apps that could take advantage of subscription pricing. I wrote:

This dramatically changes the economics of the App Store. Until now, productivity apps could charge up front as paid downloads and that was it. Updates had to be free, or, to charge for major new versions, developers would have to play confusing games by making the new version an entirely new SKU in the app store. Twitter clients like Tweetbot and Twitterrific, for example, did this, to justify years of ongoing development. Now, apps like this can instead charge an annual/monthly/etc. subscription fee.

But Apple’s own “What’s New in Subscriptions” web page makes this uncertain:

Starting this fall, apps in all categories on the App Store will be eligible to offer in-app purchases for auto-renewable subscriptions to services or content. Users enjoy the reliability that comes with subscribing to a service that they love, and the experience must provide ongoing value worth the recurring payment for an auto-renewable subscription to make sense. Although all categories of apps will be eligible, this business model is not appropriate for every app.

Like many freemium apps, successful auto-renewable subscription apps operate as services that are continuously supported, and often require sustained content development or feature enhancements to retain users. Whether updating content on a regular basis, providing on-demand use of a service, or giving access to a large collection of content, successful auto-renewable subscription apps are equipped to offer continued utility and enjoyment to their subscribers.

In a sidebar titled “Types of Auto-Renewable Subscriptions”, Apple lists only two, “Content” and “Services”:

Content
Provide paid access to content that is updated or delivered on a regular basis, such as newspapers, educational courses, or audio or video libraries.

Services
Provide paid access to an ongoing service within your app, such as cloud storage or massive multiplayer online games (MMOGs).

Professional apps that require “a lot of maintenance of new features and versions” don’t fit either of those categories. Would Twitter clients like Tweetbot and Twitterrific qualify for subscription pricing? After talking to Schiller yesterday, I thought so. Now, I don’t know. Developers are definitely confused.

Brent Simmons:

I have a side project, a Mac app, that I could also do as an iOS app. I have no plans to do so — but the news about subscriptions and free trials makes me reconsider.

It might be sustainable with this new model.

But here’s the thing: the app is a stand-alone thing. I’m not running a backend web service for it. Would it be okay to use the subscription-based pricing? […] What does “not appropriate” mean? Does that mean rejection? Or is that just a warning that it’s maybe not the best fit, but it’s okay to try it anyway?


Schiller obviously knows what he’s talking about, but what he’s said seems to be outside the new written rules. So I think what Apple is trying to do here is discourage frivolous use of subscriptions. I think it’s obvious from Apple’s own description that while apps from any category are now allowed to offer subscription, that doesn’t mean every app will be allowed to. Like with many App Store rules, Apple doesn’t spell things out in detail in order to preserve control and flexibility. Like Justice Potter Stewart’s “I know it when I see it” definition of “obscenity”, I think Apple wants to define “good use of the subscription business model” as “we know it when we see it”.

The problem with that is that developers don’t know whether they’re going to be approved or not. As it stands, they would need to do all the engineering (and design) work to support subscriptions, submit the app, and wait to see if it’s approved and perhaps appeal if it isn’t. That’s bad enough for an existing app whose developer wants to switch to subscription pricing. But this uncertainty is downright untenable for a new app whose developer sees subscription pricing as the only sustainable business model to justify the app’s development in the first place.

The letter of the rules Apple has posted creates counterintuitive incentives for developers. An app with its own proprietary sync service can use the subscription model, but a competing app that provides the same features using CloudKit cannot. But Apple wants developers to use iCloud.

I think Apple should just allow any app to offer subscription pricing, period. Apple’s role should be as the trusted platform vendor, making sure users can easily cancel subscriptions, requiring opt-in to any pricing changes, and making sure no one is being tricked or confused in any way. Otherwise Apple should allow developers to define their use of subscriptions as they see fit. In the same way that developers with paid-up-front apps can pick their own price, and users determine whether it’s worth it or not, developers of subscription-based apps should be able to define their own “here’s what you get when you subscribe” features and let users decide whether they’re worth the price or not. I don’t think Apple ought to control this — the market will work itself out. People won’t sign up for a bad subscription offering for the same reasons they don’t sign up for bad subscription deals in the world outside the App Store.

Apple needs to clarify this to remove the uncertainty.


Another question: If an app is deemed qualified to use subscription pricing, must it be functional in some limited way without a subscription? Apps that use in-app purchases must be functional without the IAP. Is that true for subscription-based apps too?

My understanding is that if an app gets approved for subscription pricing, then it is up to the developer whether the app is useful without a subscription. A simple comparison: Spotify and Netflix. Spotify plays music for free (with ads) even if you don’t pay them a nickel. Netflix, on the other hand, doesn’t offer any content to non-subscribers. I’d like to see Apple clarify this too.


I should add that I don’t think subscription pricing — even if Apple clarified that subscriptions are open to any app, period — are a panacea. There is no perfect way to sell software. The old way — pay up front, then pay for major upgrades in the future — has problems, too, just a different set of problems. If I had my druthers Apple would enable paid upgrades in the App Store(s), but I get the feeling that’s not in the cards. That leaves us with subscriptions.

DF reader Sean Harding framed the problems with subscription pricing well, in a short series of tweets:

I think the new stuff is good, but I don’t think it really solves the upgrade pricing problem from a customer standpoint. A sub forces me to effectively always buy the upgrade or stop using even the old version. I don’t dislike subscriptions because I don’t want to pay. I just want freedom to decide if the new features are worth paying for.

Tapbots developer Paul Haddad:

I’d probably be fine with a subscription model, if they degraded nicely. Stop paying, app still works but no more upgrades. That seems fair.

That’s a nice notion, but I’m pretty sure the App Store doesn’t allow for that and never will. A nice side effect of paid downloads is that you, the user, can keep using an old version of an app until it technically no longer runs, because of an OS update or something like that (e.g. a PowerPC binary that no longer runs on Intel-based Macs — a scenario that could happen again if Apple starts putting ARM chips in Macs). With software-as-a-service, when you stop paying for the service, you don’t get to keep using the current version of the app — or if it’s a freemium model, you don’t get to keep using the non-free features that were previously enabled via the subscription.

I can see why some people don’t like this. I personally have a few not-the-latest-version apps that I’m glad still work for me. But this is the way the software economy is moving. Nobody expects a subscription web app/service to continue working if you stop paying for it. With Adobe and Microsoft leading the way, that’s the way the economics of app development are shifting too. 


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