Yogi Berra (1925–2015)
Android Security a ‘Market for Lemons’ That Leaves 87 Percent Vulnerable 

Liam Tung, reporting for ZDNet:

Consumers, regulators, and corporate buyers face a common problem when assessing Android smartphones, in that no one knows which vendor will supply patches after Google develops fixes for Android security bugs.

“The difficulty is that the market for Android security today is like the market for lemons,” Cambridge researchers Daniel Thomas, Alastair Beresford, and Andrew Rice note in a new paper.

“There is information asymmetry between the manufacturer, who knows whether the device is currently secure and will receive security updates, and the customer, who does not.”

Their analysis of data collected from over 20,000 Android devices with the Device Analyzer app installed found that 87 percent of Android devices were vulnerable to at least one of 11 bugs in the public domain in the past five years, including the recently discovered TowelRoot issue, which Cyanogen fixed last year, and FakeID.

Looks like March and April 2013 were the high-water mark for Android security.

iMac: Then and Now 

Fun comparison from Apple, pitting a 1998 iMac against today’s newest.

On Apple’s Insurmountable Platform Advantage 

Provocative piece by Steve Cheney:

The truth is the best people in chip design no longer want to work at Intel or Qualcomm. They want to work at Apple. I have plenty of friends in the Valley who affirm this. Sure Apple products are cooler. But Apple has also surpassed Intel in performance. This is insane. A device company — which makes CPUs for internal use — surpassing Intel, the world’s largest chip maker which practically invented the CPU and has thousands of customers.

This pedigree that Apple developed now has a secondary powerful force: portable devices serve as the reference platform whereby all chip design starts. Components from the smartphone market now power almost all other markets, giving Apple’s in-house team a comparative advantage as they enter new product categories, like wearables and electric cars.

In the old days, when Macs ran on PowerPC chips (or even older days, when they ran on Motorola 680 × 0 chips), Macs were generally slower than their PC counterparts. Every once in a while Apple could jump ahead, but only briefly. In the long run, Apple couldn’t compete with Intel-based PCs on specs. Then, Apple switched to Intel chips, and the competition was over — raw computational power was no longer a factor, because all personal computers were using Intel CPUs.

I don’t think it has gotten through the heads of many people that Apple has now turned the old dynamic on its head. Apple’s ARM chips are years ahead of the commodity chips used by its competition, and are set to surpass even Intel’s x86 chips in terms of performance-per-watt. (Worth keeping in mind: performance-per-watt was Steve Jobs’s primary justification for the switch from PowerPC to Intel when the transition was announced at WWDC 2005.)

Interesting tidbit toward the end of Cheney’s piece:

It’s also known in inner circles that Apple has embarked on design of radio interface (RF) chips that traditionally were off limits to all but the most advanced chip makers like Qualcomm. These chips rival CPUs in complexity. Apple is now designing these to spec and will be putting its own radios into future mobile devices. This has physical layer impacts on bandwidth, connectivity, latency and user experience — all critical for autonomous vehicles.

Bluetooth sucks. In my opinion it’s the single-biggest problem with Apple Watch. Would be interesting if Apple created its own better-than-Bluetooth wireless protocol. Proprietary, of course.

Playboy to Drop Nude Photos 

Ravi Somaiya, reporting for the NYT:

Last month, Cory Jones, a top editor at Playboy, went to see its founder Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion.

In a wood-paneled dining room, with Picasso and de Kooning prints on the walls, Mr. Jones nervously presented a radical suggestion: the magazine, a leader of the revolution that helped take sex in America from furtive to ubiquitous, should stop publishing images of naked women.

Mr. Hefner, now 89, but still listed as editor in chief, agreed. As part of a redesign that will be unveiled next March, the print edition of Playboy will still feature women in provocative poses. But they will no longer be fully nude.

Insert joke here about reading Playboy for the articles.

Playboy’s heyday was before my time, but at its height, it had remarkable reach:

Playboy’s circulation has dropped from 5.6 million in 1975 to about 800,000 now, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. Many of the magazines that followed it have disappeared. Though detailed figures are not kept for adult magazines, many of those that remain exist in severely diminished form, available mostly in specialist stores. Penthouse, perhaps the most famous Playboy competitor, responded to the threat from digital pornography by turning even more explicit. It never recovered.

Compare a circulation of 5.6 million in 1975 to this list of top U.S. magazine circulations from 2013.

Apple E-Book Antitrust Monitoring May End 

Pamela A. Maclean, reporting for Bloomberg:

The U.S. Justice Department said it’s satisfied Apple Inc. put in place reforms to comply with antitrust laws even though the company fought with a monitor appointed to oversee its sale of electronic books.

The government on Monday recommended that the monitoring not be extended.

A reminder that the e-book market share leader still has 80 percent share.

Behind the Scenes on the Design of Apple’s New Trackpads, Keyboards, and iMacs  

Steven Levy scores another scoop for Medium’s Backchannel:

The input device, dubbed the Magic Mouse 2, would look to users exactly like the previous model. But on the inside and underneath, everything would be different, mainly because Apple was switching to a rechargeable lithium battery instead of the previous replaceable alkaline ones.

Late in the process, everything seemed to be going fine. The internal lithium battery was custom-engineered to fit the cavity. The redesigned antenna — necessary to deal with the potential interference from an internal battery — was working well.

But one thing was totally unacceptable.

The mouse didn’t sound right.

That’s what Apple engineering leaders Kate Bergeron and John Ternus told me recently, when I became the first reporter to venture into the Input Design Lab.

Great read.

Rewriting Jack Dorsey’s ‘Jargon-Free’ Firing Memo 

Gideon Lichfield, writing for Quartz, disagrees that Dorsey’s memo announcing layoffs is “jargon-free”, and offers his own revision:

For its genre, Dorsey’s memo is indeed admirably brief and to the point. But it’s still riddled with jargon. Why is it so hard for executives to write in a truly straightforward manner? Here is Dorsey’s memo, with our suggested cuts in strikethrough and additions in bold.

A few of these were a little euphemistic, but in the annals of translating from corporate-talk to plain English, this is pretty tame. Dorsey’s opening sentence is a clunker — “We are moving forward with a restructuring of our workforce so we can put our company on a stronger path to grow” — but after that, I think it’s pretty clear.

Twitter Laying Off Over 300 Employees, 8 Percent of Staff 

Kurt Wagner, writing for Recode:

Twitter plans to lay off as much as 336 people, or 8 percent of its staff, as part of an internal restructuring plan, according to a filing submitted with the Securities and Exchange Commission Tuesday morning. […]

“Product and Engineering are going to make the most significant structural changes to reflect our plan ahead,” CEO Jack Dorsey said in a letter Tuesday morning. “We feel strongly that Engineering will move much faster with a smaller and nimbler team, while remaining the biggest percentage of our workforce. And the rest of the organization will be streamlined in parallel.”

They’ve also got a copy of Jack Dorsey’s company-wide memo announcing this. That’s a tough memo to write, but Dorsey does a good job of being honest and humane. Count me as a bull on Twitter.

Why the Words for ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ Sound So Similar in So Many Languages 

John McWhorter, writing for The Atlantic:

Is there anything inherently “doggy” about the word “dog”? Obviously not — to the French, a dog is a chien, to Russians a sobaka, to Mandarin Chinese-speakers a gǒu. These words have nothing in common, and none seem any more connected to the canine essence than any other. One runs up against that wall with pretty much any word.

Except some. The word for “mother” seems often either to be mama or have a nasal sound similar to m, like nana. The word for “father” seems often either to be papa or have a sound similar to p, like b, in it — such that you get something like baba. The word for “dad” may also have either d or t, which is a variation on saying d, just as p is on b. People say mama or nana, and then papa, baba, dada, or tata, worldwide.

The Families Funding the 2016 Presidential Election 

Interesting New York Times investigation and visualization on the 158 families who’ve donated about half the money so far for 2016’s presidential election. Most interesting to me: the overwhelming majority of them made their own fortunes (as opposed to inheriting them).

‘We Knew We Were Snowing Them the Entire Time!’ 

Steven Levy tells the tale of the HP-Apple iPod “alliance”:

In short, Fiorina’s “good friend” Steve Jobs blithely mugged her and HP’s shareholders. By getting Fiorina to adopt the iPod as HP’s music player, Jobs had effectively gotten his software installed on millions of computers for free, stifled his main competitor, and gotten a company that prided itself on invention to declare that Apple was a superior inventor. And he lost nothing, except the few minutes it took him to call Carly Fiorina and say he was sorry she got canned.


My thanks to meh.com — the deal-a-day site that’s still just one deal a day — for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Meh.com is very funny, and they really do offer amazing deals.

Donald Trump and Twitter 

Michael Barbaro, reporting for the NYT:

His online dominance is striking: Over the past two months, on Twitter alone, he has been mentioned in 6.3 million conversations, eight times as many as Republican rivals like Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson — not to mention more than three times as many as Hillary Rodham Clinton and nearly four times as many as Bernie Sanders. He is retweeted more than twice as often as Mrs. Clinton and about 13 times more frequently than Jeb Bush, according to data compiled as of Friday by Edelman Berland, a market research firm that studies social media. His Twitter following (4.36 million) dwarfs that of the rest of the Republican field, and in the coming weeks, he is expected to surpass Mrs. Clinton (4.39 million).

In an interview at his office — interrupted repeatedly by Mr. Trump’s picking up his Samsung Galaxy cellphone, loading new tweets with his index finger and marveling at his nonstop mentions (“Watch this!” he implored) — the candidate compared his Twitter feed to a newspaper with a single, glorious voice: his own.

“The Ernest Hemingway of a hundred and forty characters,” he said, quoting a fan.

He has no computer or tablet in his office. Just his phone.

Fixing Safari View Controller 

Dan Provost:

With iOS 9, Apple introduced something called the Safari View Controller. It is, essentially, a plug-and-play web view that developers can use in lieu of building their own web viewer. The benefits of this are numerous: much less coding and maintenance for developers, a unified experience across apps for users, and the Safari View Controller can take advantage of the same privileges of Safari proper, such as saved passwords and content blockers.

The UI, however, has one serious flaw. It is a pain in the ass to dismiss.

I’m not sure I agree with his suggestion that all the browser chrome remain on screen while you scroll. Apple could fix this just by keeping the top chrome visible, with the “Done” button. But he’s right that it’s a problem that needs to be fixed.

Rick Tetzeli: ‘The Steve Jobs in Aaron Sorkin’s Movie Could Never Have Saved Apple’ 

Rick Tetzeli:

Biopics should never have to adhere to a stringent re-enactment of the facts. But this is a movie about a man who’s been dead just four years, whose legacy is still being defined. Most moviegoers will look at the movie as biography — which is a pity, since the character portrait Sorkin hopes to create by distorting the truth is so much less interesting and nuanced than Jobs really was. […]

The Steve Jobs portrayed in Steve Jobs could never have saved Apple. In the perpetually changing technology industry, simple stubbornness is the kiss of death. Sorkin has created a caricature, an entertaining and modern take on the archetypal tortured business genius. It’s kind of fun, especially for people who don’t know much about how business gets done. But characters like the “Steve Jobs” of this movie don’t last long in business — they burn out, or they get thrown out.

Medium’s New API 

MarsEdit developer Daniel Jalkut on Medium’s new API, and its support for Markdown:

Unfortunately, the Markdown support through the API seems to be a one-time conversion from Markdown to HTML, at the time of submission. This means users can write in Markdown for the initial composition of a post, but any further edits (through the web interface only, see above) will need to be done using Medium’s default rich WYSIWYG editor.

A more attractive long-term solution for Markdown fans would be to support storing Markdown text literally in Medium’s database, and converting it to HTML only for presentation on the web. This leaves the pristine Markdown available for perpetual edits either moments or years after the post is first published. This would require updating the web interface to support editing content as plain text, but would be a welcome change for anybody who favors editing in Markdown.

Overcast 2 

Lots of new features, headlined by a new streaming engine (you can start listening to un-downloaded episodes as soon as you hit Play). But more interesting to me is the new business model. Marco Arment:

Overcast 1.0 locked the best features behind an in-app purchase, which about 20% of customers bought. This made enough money, but it had a huge downside:

80% of my customers were using an inferior app. The limited, locked version of Overcast without the purchase sure wasn’t the version I used, it wasn’t a great experience, and it wasn’t my best work.

With Overcast 2.0, I’ve changed that by unlocking everything, for everyone, for free. I’d rather have you using Overcast for free than not using it at all, and I want everyone to be using the good version of Overcast.

If you can pay, I’m trying to make up the revenue difference by offering a simple $1 monthly patronage. It’s completely optional, it doesn’t get you any additional features, and it doesn’t even auto-renew — it’s just a direct way to support Overcast’s ongoing development and hosting without having to make the app terrible for 80% of its users.

Really curious to see how this works. $1/month for a great app that I use almost every day seems like a great deal.

Apple Says Battery Performance of New iPhones’ A9 Chips Vary Only 2-3 Percent 

Apple, in a statement to TechCrunch on the allegations that Samsung-made A9s get worse battery life than TSMC-made ones:

Certain manufactured lab tests which run the processors with a continuous heavy workload until the battery depletes are not representative of real-world usage, since they spend an unrealistic amount of time at the highest CPU performance state. It’s a misleading way to measure real-world battery life. Our testing and customer data show the actual battery life of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, even taking into account variable component differences, vary within just 2-3% of each other.

Real-world testing seems to bear that out.

Matthew Panzarino:

The 2-3% difference Apple is saying it sees between the battery life of the two processors is well within its manufacturing tolerances for any device, even two iPhones with the same exact processor. In other words, your iPhone and someone else’s iPhone with the same guts likely vary as much as 3%, regardless of who made them.

Basically, if you can tell the difference in real-world usage between the two processors, you should take a Voight-Kampff test.

Bloomberg on Apple’s Utter Dominance of Phone Market 

Ashlee Vance, writing for Bloomberg:

Apple’s utter dominance of the money-making end of the industry stems from its business model and unique brand. Since stumbling in 2013 with the slightly down-market iPhone 5C, the company has redoubled its focus on an annual, highly desired flagship phone at a high price, turning its back on cheaper models for the masses. With the iPhone as its main profit center, the world’s biggest company has been able to invest in developing its own speedy, power-efficient chips and sturdy, lightweight materials, as well as continuing to refine its software.

The 5C wasn’t a stumble. It’s fair to say it wasn’t a hit, but it didn’t hurt their overall business at all. The alternative would have been for Apple to keep selling the then-year-old iPhone 5 for another year at the same price points the 5C debuted at — and margins on the 5S were lower. Apple’s 2013 “stumble” was that they still didn’t have larger displays in the then-new top-of-the-line 5S. Which in turn means the real stumble was back in 2010, when they began planning for the form factors for the iPhone 5/5S form factor.

Other large companies, including China’s Lenovo, have a tougher time rationalizing their phone businesses. Lenovo bought Motorola from Google last year for $2.9 billion, hoping to boost its fortunes by expanding beyond PCs. No such luck: In its last quarter, Lenovo’s mobility unit posted a $292 million loss that just about wiped out its PC business profits. The company says it can fix things by paring back the number of devices it sells, combined with a “faster, leaner business model.”

Remember when Google bought Motorola for $12.5 billion back in 2011? Good times.

Important Domain Name Registration 

Elliot Silver:

Whois records show that Google is now the owner of abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz.com. Prior to the acquisition, the domain name was privately owned and appears to have been parked. At the time of publication, abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz.com does not resolve, although it would seem wise for the company to forward it to the Alphabet website.

Enhanced Editions of Harry Potter Series Now Available Exclusively on iBooks 


Apple today announced that enhanced editions of all seven books in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series are now available exclusively on the iBooks Store for readers around the world to enjoy on their iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Mac. Customers can download individual books featuring full original text, interactive animations and elaborate artwork bringing these beloved stories to life in a unique way. Harry Potter fans will also find annotations throughout their literary journey, written by the author herself.

“I’m thrilled to see the Harry Potter books so beautifully realised on iBooks for the digital world; the artwork and animations in these enhanced editions bring the stories alive in a delightful new way,” said J.K. Rowling. […]

Until now, the Harry Potter digital books have only been available for readers to purchase through the Pottermore Shop. Starting today, iBooks users can experience the books with all new exclusive custom covers for each title, and typography including the custom Harry Potter typefaces and new section headers and drop caps.

I’m intrigued about the strategic implications of an exclusive like this. But as a book reader, somehow it feels wrong for books to be “exclusive” to a proprietary software platform.

Microsoft Lumia 950 

Why put that glaring, obnoxious “Microsoft” on the front face? Nobody wants to see that. Nobody. This is one of the things Apple does that everyone should copy but few do.

How Will Twitter Break the 140-Character Limit? 

Dave Winer:

I had a few minutes to spare this morning and decided it would be worth it to see what a Fat Tweet might look like, one that has room for more than 140 chars, that doesn’t force you to click a link to see the rest.

Dave’s idea is that you could type as much text as you want for the tweet, but your timeline would only show the first 140 characters (preserving the scrollability of your timeline), and you’d click or tap “See More” to expand the whole thing.

I think Twitter will do something different. I think they’ll preserve the 140-character limit for the tweet itself, but add “text” or maybe something richer, like “story”, as an attachment type. So in the same way that you can now attach an image to a tweet, you could attach a chunk of text. You’d see a preview/thumbnail of the text attachment in the timeline, and you’d click/tap on it to see the whole thing.

It’d be pretty cool if they used Markdown for formatting, but that might be too nerdy for mass market use.

iPulse 3 

Iconfactory’s iPulse epitomizes the indie Mac developer ethos. It’s such a nerdy utility — it displays system stats and status for your Mac — but it’s absolutely gorgeous. And really, really tweakable. It warms my heart to see something like this near the top of the Mac App Store chart.

NYT: ‘Chinese Hackers Breached LoopPay, Whose Tech Is Central to Samsung Pay’ 

Nicole Perlroth and Mike Isaac, reporting for the NYT:

“Samsung Pay was not impacted and at no point was any personal payment information at risk,” Darlene Cedres, Samsung’s chief privacy officer, said in a statement. “This was an isolated incident that targeted the LoopPay corporate network, which is a physically separate network. The LoopPay corporate network issue was resolved immediately and had nothing to do with Samsung Pay.”

But two people briefed on the investigation, as well as security experts who have been tracking the Codoso hackers as they have targeted hundreds of victims around the world, said it would be premature to say what the hackers did and did not accomplish since they were discovered in August.

Federico Viticci’s Tweetbot 4 Review 

Comprehensive, astute, and well-illustrated review of Tweetbot 4 — and really, what it means to design a great modern iPad Twitter client. It is a long article, but it has to be, given how much is new in Tweetbot 4, and the ways that iOS 9 has raised the bar for iPad app design.

Tweetbot 4 

Speaking of indie developers doing great work, Tapbots is on fire. The new Tweetbot 4 for iOS is now a universal app for both iPhone and iPad, and has a slew of great new features. Long story short, Tweetbot for iOS is my single favorite and most-used iOS app. It is remarkably well-designed and well-crafted. The only other app that comes close to it — both in terms of the amount of time I spend using it and my affection for its design and usability — is Mobile Safari.

The regular price will be $10, but for now, Tweetbot 4 is available for just $5 — including for users of Tweetbot 3 or the old non-universal Tweetbot for iPad. This is the closest Tapbots can get to charging for an upgrade on the App Store, and paid upgrades are the only way developers can afford to keep working on existing apps.

$5 for the fruits of all of this talent, hard work, and craftsmanship. If you don’t see that as an absolute bargain, there is no hope for you.

Fantastical Updates 

One of my favorite indie apps in recent years has been Fantastical. I use it on my Mac and iPhone. I prefer it over Apple’s system Calendar apps in just about every regard. And they’re moving really fast: today they released free updates for the iPad and iPhone versions (including split-screen multitasking support on iPad, and a new Apple Watch companion app for iPhone). Last month they released a solid update to the Mac app.

Snowball: New Rugged Storage Appliance From Amazon for Importing Data to AWS Via Fedex 

Frederic Lardinois, writing for TechCrunch:

Amazon surprised developers today with the launch of Snowball, a new physical appliance that will allow AWS users to ship huge amounts of data for import into AWS by shipping the device back and forth between their offices and the AWS data centers.

The appliance is a bit larger than an old-school desktop case and it can hold up to 50 terabytes of data. It has a Kindle on the side, which functions as an automatic shipping label.

Reminds me of the old Andrew Tanenbaum quote: “Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.”

Universal Search on Apple TV Will Be an API for Developers 

John Paczkowski, writing for Buzzfeed last week:

In a recent interview with BuzzFeed News, Apple CEO Tim Cook said universal search in Apple TV is not something that the company plans to reserve for key content partners. “At launch we’ll have iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, Showtime, and HBO — so we’ll have five major inputs into universal search initially,” Cook said. “But we’re also opening an API, so that others can join in.”

I figured this would be open to all third-party apps, but it’s good to hear confirmation. (Sounds like it’s similar to Spotlight’s open search APIs on OS X.)

(Another Apple TV-related thought: even though Amazon won’t sell Apple TV hardware, that doesn’t necessarily preclude them from making a Prime app for Apple TV. And if the universal search API is open, Prime video could be included in that, too.)

Waterstones Is Removing Kindles From Stores 

Lisa Campbell, writing for The Bookseller:

Waterstones is removing Amazon’s Kindle devices from many of it stores as sales “continue to be pitiful”.

The company’s m.d James Daunt said there had been no sign of a “bounce” in Kindle sales, so the company was “taking the display space back” to use for physical books instead.

He told The Bookseller: “Sales of Kindles continue to be pitiful so we are taking the display space back in more and more shops. It feels very much like the life of one of those inexplicable bestsellers; one day piles and piles, selling like fury; the next you count your blessings with every sale because it brings you closer to getting it off your shelves forever to make way for something new. Sometimes, of course, they ‘bounce’ but no sign yet of this being the case with Kindles.”

Easiest explanation for this is that Kindle users are Amazon users, and Amazon users buy their Kindles direct from Amazon. I’ve owned a few Kindles over the years, and it never even occurred to me to buy one anywhere else.

Porsche Refuses Android Auto Privacy Terms 

Number 5 on Jonny Lieberman’s list of “13 Cool Facts About the 2017 Porsche 911” for Motortrend:

So much for “Do No Evil.” There’s no technological reason the 991/2 doesn’t have Android Auto playing through its massively upgraded PCM system. But there is an ethical one. As part of the agreement an automaker would have to enter with Google, certain pieces of data must be collected and mailed back to Mountain View, California. Stuff like vehicle speed, throttle position, coolant and oil temp, engine revs — basically Google wants a complete OBD2 dump whenever someone activates Android Auto. Not kosher, says Porsche. Obviously, this is “off the record,” but Porsche feels info like that is the secret sauce that makes its cars special. Moreover, giving such data to a multi-billion dollar corporation that’s actively building a car, well, that ain’t good, either. Apple, by way of stark contrast, only wants to know if the car is moving while Apple Play is in use. Makes you wonder about all the other OEMs who have agreed to Google’s requests/demands, no?

Yes, it does.

Update: Google responds. I would call it a non-denial denial, but you be the judge.

Sony and Verizon Cancel Launch of Xperia Z4V Phone 

Chris Welch, reporting for The Verge:

After failing to deliver it on time for a summer release target, Verizon and Sony today announced that they’ve decided to completely cancel plans to launch the Xperia Z4v in the United States. The move represents a significant blow to Sony’s already-weak presence in the US smartphone market. Neither side is giving an explanation for the cancellation, though Verizon unveiled the Z4v way back in June and has remained silent on the device ever since.


Swiss TV Station Replaces Cameras With iPhones 

Imagine how crazy this story would have sounded just five years ago.

Microsoft’s Surface Book: Detachable Professional Laptop 

Innovative, attractive design, great performance — I even like the name. Kudos to Microsoft.

Tim Cook Marks the Fourth Anniversary of Steve Jobs’s Death in Memo to Employees 

Tim Cook:

What is his legacy? I see it all around us: An incredible team that embodies his spirit of innovation and creativity. The greatest products on earth, beloved by customers and empowering hundreds of millions of people around the world. Soaring achievements in technology and architecture. Experiences of surprise and delight. A company that only he could have built. A company with an intense determination to change the world for the better.

And, of course, the joy he brought his loved ones.

WSJ: Laurene Powell Jobs ‘Tried to Kill’ Upcoming Hollywood Biopic 

Ben Fritz and Daisuke Wakabayashi, reporting for the WSJ:

Mr. Jobs’s allies, led by his widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, say the film “Steve Jobs,” and other recent depictions, play down his accomplishments and paint Mr. Jobs as cruel and inhumane. Ms. Jobs repeatedly tried to kill the film, according to people familiar with the conversations. She lobbied, among others, Sony Pictures Entertainment, which developed the script but passed on the movie for financial reasons, and Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures, which is releasing the $33.5 million production on Friday. […]

People behind “Steve Jobs” say they offered to include Ms. Jobs in the film’s development, but she declined.

“She refused to discuss anything in Aaron’s script that bothered her despite my repeated entreaties,” producer Scott Rudin said in an emailed response to questions from The Wall Street Journal. He said Ms. Jobs “continued to say how much she disliked the book, and that any movie based on the book could not possibly be accurate.”

I’ll keep an open mind until I’ve seen the movie, but given my thoughts on Isaacson’s book, I tend to agree. What a terrible decision Jobs made when he picked Isaacson to be his authorized biographer.

Google’s Cute Cars and the Ugly End of Driving 

Mat Honan, writing for Buzzfeed after getting to ride in a Google self-driving car:

Cars are giant, inefficient, planet-and-people-killing death machines. Self-driving cars — especially if they are operated as fleets and you only use one when you need it, summoning it Uber-style — would mean we could have fewer vehicles per person, less traffic congestion, less pollution, far fewer vehicles produced per year (thus lowering the environmental impact of production), and, best of all, safer streets. The blind, people with epilepsy, quadriplegics, and all manner of others who today have difficulty ferrying themselves around as they go through the mundanities of an average day will be liberated. Eliminating the automobile’s need for a human pilot will be a positive thing for society.

Business Insider: ‘Evernote Is in Deep Trouble’ 

Eugene Kim, writing for Business Insider:

Evernote has laid off roughly 18% of its workforce in the past nine months, and said it will shut down three of its 10 global offices last week. Earlier this year, it replaced its long-time CEO Phil Libin with former Google exec Chris O’Neill.

“It’s going to be a tough road ahead,” one source familiar with the matter told us. “They want to go public, and, to do that, the focus on revenue now has to be a ruthless prioritization on things that make money.”

Depending on where you stand, Evernote is either a sinking ship or a maturing company going through a normal transition cycle. But most people we spoke to seem to agree that the company has failed to take advantage of its red-hot growth and make enough money from much of its huge user base — and is starting to show early signs of being an ailing unicorn.

Evernote has some very cool features — most impressive to me is that when you attach a photo to a note, they do OCR on any signage or text in the image so you can search for it. But the interface has always seemed so convoluted, I could never get into it. It looks like the result of a company that is focused on adding features, not focused on creating something well-designed.

CNet’s Amazon Fire Review: ‘Not Good, but Good for the Price if You’re a Prime Member’ 

Translation: “The food here is terrible, and the portions are so small.”

The iPhones 6S

The pattern is pretty clear. In even-numbered years (2008, 2010, 2012, 2014) Apple releases all-new iPhone form factors: 3G, 4, 5, 6/6 Plus. In the subsequent years, they release “S” variants: iPhones that look nearly identical to their predecessors, but with improved components.

Why do they do this?

There are some ecosystem advantages to this tick-tock1 schedule. Most iPhone cases, for example, fit both the tick and tock iPhones. (The rare exceptions are certain hard cases with extremely tight tolerances. The iPhones 6S, for example, are both a few tenths of a millimeter bigger, wider, and thicker than their corresponding siblings from last year.) I think there are some branding advantages to this two-year cycle as well. iPhones are iconic devices. The devices themselves are recognizable. Keeping each new form factor around for two model years lets that iconic appearance seep deeper into the mass market collective consciousness.

Releasing a new generation of iPhones every year — year in, year out — is an aggressive pace given the scale and scope of the iPhone, and its importance to Apple financially. Sure, other handset makers put out dozens of different models every year. But Apple is playing an entirely different game. With one exception — the iPhone 5C two years ago (a phone which, as time goes by, seems more and more curious strategically) — Apple has never made a new iPhone other than a new top-of-the-line industry-leading flagship. In the same way that automobiles don’t change form factors every year, I don’t think it would be feasible for Apple to change the iPhone’s form factor every year. I think it takes more than a year for Apple’s design team to create a new iPhone design — at least to create a new design that is different because it is better, not merely different for the sake of being different.

The glaring downside to this tick-tock schedule is that we as a culture — and particularly the media, both on the tech/gadgetry side and the business side — are obsessed with “new”. And, well, the S-model iPhones don’t look new. This year there is a new rose gold aluminum finish, but at a glance, the iPhones 6S look like last year’s iPhones 6. Every year is an iterative improvement over the previous one, whether it’s an S year or not. But it’s hard not to see the S years as more iterative, less impressive, updates, simply because they look the same.

I think that’s a trap — a way to be fooled by your eyes. If you put aside what the phones look like, the S model years have brought some of the biggest changes to the platform. The display changes came in non-S years, of course — the iPhone 4 going retina; the iPhone 5 expanding from 3.5 to 4 inches diagonally and changing the aspect ratio; and of course last year’s 6/6 Plus expanding to 4.7 and 5.5 inches and higher display resolutions. But it was the 3GS that first improved on CPU performance and gave us the first improvements to the camera. The 4S ushered in Siri integration and a much faster camera. The 5S was Apple’s first 64-bit ARM device, years ahead of the competition, and was the first device with Touch ID. For a typical iPhone user on a two-year upgrade cycle, I think the S years are the better phones, historically.

Here’s a passage from my 5S/5C review two years ago:

Refinement, in the eyes of these naysayers, does not count as innovation. Only revolution counts. But the iPhone needs no revolution. It continues to sell better year-over-year, year after year, without lowering its prices. Every step of the way between 2007 and that lone original iPhone — running an OS with no third-party apps, no multitasking, not even copy-and-paste — and today’s world, where Apple is on the cusp of selling its 700 millionth iOS device and the lineup ranges from the iPod Touch to the iPhones to two sizes of iPad, has been about just that: refinement.

The iPhone 5S shows that there remains much room for refinement.

I don’t think it’s ever been more of a trap to approach an S-model iPhone as “just a slightly improved version of last year’s iPhone” than this year.

I used to think — and maybe it was even true — that one of the advantages to Apple of the tick-tock cycle is that during the S years, they’re already experts at manufacturing a bunch of the components. That they’ve already got a year of experience making that case, that display, those buttons. That manufacturing-wise, Apple could just swap in a few new components, like a new A-series CPU, and call it a day. But the iPhones 6S don’t use the same case as last year’s models. They’re now made out of an altogether new “7000 series” aluminum alloy. This isn’t just a new material that needs to be obtained in massive quantities, it also requires new CNC machining to carve and polish the frames. The displays are the same sizes as last year, but Apple is using a new glass that it calls “the strongest in the smartphone industry”.2 Even the Touch ID sensor is new. Everything you can touch on the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus is new.

Internally, Apple has added force sensors to enable 3D Touch. They’ve replaced the chintzy old vibrating engine with a “Taptic” engine. Both LTE and Wi-Fi now support faster speeds (and LTE supports more bands, increasing compatibility with networks around the world). The camera now supports 4K video and shoots better (and bigger) still photos. On the iPhone 6S Plus, image stabilization now works with video in addition to stills. The CPU and GPU improvements in the A9 system-on-a-chip are more dramatic compared to the A8 than the A8 was to the A7.

Apple has even — dare I say finally — increased the amount of RAM, from 1 GB to 2.

The Only Thing That’s Changed Is Everything” is the slogan of Apple’s marketing campaign for the iPhones 6S. I can’t beat that. I’ve been testing both models for 12 days, and what Apple is saying about the new iPhones is true. They don’t look new, but almost everything about them is new.

I think it’s backwards to think that in an S year, Apple simply takes the previous model and makes a few tweaks. Instead, I think what’s obvious is that knowing the basic industrial design at least two years ahead of time gives the engineering teams inside Apple an opportunity to make significant changes to the components and the materials used to construct them. The timeline for iPhones, because of the massive scale at which they must be manufactured, is such that, right now, as I’m typing this, the design for next year’s iPhone 7 is either locked down or very close to it. The company will now spend the next year hustling to make it work and put it into production so it can start shipping a year from now. But that means there are also teams already at work on the iPhone 7S slated for 2017 — and they have a massive head start in terms of knowing the shape and dimensions of the device.


As usual, I’ll leave in-depth performance analysis to others, but I did run the Geekbench 3 general-purpose benchmark. All devices were running the release version of iOS 9.0. I ran the benchmark three times after restarting the device, and put all devices in airplane mode during the tests. I’ve rounded the scores to the nearest tens digit. For both the iPhone 6 and 6S, the scores for the 5.5-inch Plus models were effectively identical to the 4.7-inch models, so they aren’t broken out separately.

Test iPhone 5S iPhone 6 iPhone 6S 6S vs. 6 Factor
Single Core 1360 1610 2500 1.6×
Multi-Core 2430 2890 4340 1.5×
Memory (Single) 1420 1650 2540 1.5×
Memory (Multi) 1770 1840 2560 1.4×

Two observations here. First, there is a noticeably bigger performance increase across the board going from the 6 to the 6S than there was last year, going from the 5S to the 6. In broad strokes, the non-S iPhones are about physical style, the S models are about performance. (At the introduction of the 3GS in 2009, Phil Schiller claimed the “S” stood for “speed”. Since then, Apple hasn’t said what any of the S’s stand for, but “speed” still fits)

Second, take a look at Geekbench’s aggregate results for Android devices. (Here’s a screenshot as it stands today, for posterity.) In terms of single-core performance, there isn’t a single Android phone that beats the two-year-old iPhone 5S. Android devices fare better in multi-core benchmarks, because they have more cores (some have eight, many have four — the iPhones 6S still have only two cores), but single-core performance is a better measure for the sort of things you can feel while using a device. Apple is literally years ahead of the industry. Even if you don’t agree that single-core performance is the more meaningful benchmark, you can’t deny that iPhone benchmarks don’t look anything like the benchmarks for high-end Android devices. With the Mac, Apple uses the same Intel chips as its PC competition. On mobile, though, Apple’s in-house chip team has given the company a tremendous advantage over the rest of the industry.

Speaking of the Mac and performance, again looking at single-core performance, Geekbench results put the iPhone 6S at roughly the same score as a 2012 or 2013 MacBook Air. Even more intriguing is a comparison to the new single-port MacBook:

Test iPhone 6S MacBook
(1.3 GHz)
(1.2 GHz)
(1.1 GHz)
Single Core 2500 2631 2420 2295
Multi-Core 4340 5268 5018 4464

The new iPhone 6S beats the new MacBook in single-core performance on Geekbench, and is within spitting distance in multi-core. That’s astounding. I can’t wait to see the scores for the iPad Pro later this year.

3D Touch

3D Touch can be used in a few ways:

  1. Quick Actions: The pop-up menu you see from the home screen when you press on an app icon.

  2. Peek and Pop: Press a little to get a peek, press harder to pop whatever you’re peeking at open. This works mostly on list items. So in Mail, from your list of messages, you can peek to look at a message, then pop to open it all the way up. It works almost everywhere in Apple’s own apps: Messages, Camera, Maps, Weather, Safari (page previews on links), Notes, Calendar, and more. It pays to explore.

  3. Multitasking: As an alternative to double-pressing the home button, you can now press on the left edge of the display. Press-and-swipe all the way across and you switch back to the previous app you were using. Press-and-swipe just a little and you’re left in the “card view” where you can switch to any previous application. The former is like hitting Command-Tab just once. The latter is like hitting Tab repeatedly while holding down the Command key. This is quickly addictive, and a great accommodation now that the iPhones are bigger than they used to be — you can switch between apps without changing your grip to allow your thumb to reach the Home button.

  4. Trackpad Mode: Press on the keyboard and it turns into a trackpad. iPads running iOS 9 can trigger this trackpad mode, too, with a two-finger swipe on the keyboard. Doing it with a single finger on the iPhone, though, is a tremendous boon to text editing. This might be the single best new feature for text editing on the iPhone since the addition of selection and Copy/Paste in iOS 3 in 2009. In addition to moving the insertion point around, you can press again and switch to selection mode — like double-clicking the mouse button on a Mac. Trackpad mode is a once-you’ve-used-it-you-can’t-go-back addition to iOS.

There are other uses for 3D Touch as well. When drawing in the new Notes app or using Markup to annotate an image in Mail, you can press harder to draw thicker strokes. (The same also applies when drawing Chinese characters on Chinese handwriting keyboards.) If you press on one of the new “dynamic wallpapers” on the lock screen, it animates for a few seconds, like a Live Photo. (Or you can set your lock screen wallpaper to a Live Photo you’ve taken yourself. But Apple’s “dynamic wallpapers” have a higher frame rate than the live photos you can take yourself; they’re obviously like live photos, but they’re not the same thing as the ones you can take with the iPhone 6S camera.)

The wallpaper animation is gimmicky, but fun. Most of the other uses for 3D Touch, though, are legitimate productivity gains. I find myself using the shortcuts on the icons for Messages (to jump to one of your three most-active recent threads) and Camera (to choose which mode to start in: front-facing self-portrait, video, slo-mo, or still) frequently. It’s habit-forming.

Peek-and-pop for, say, reading email — I wasn’t too sure about that at first. But watching Tim Cook’s appearance on Stephen Colbert, I took note when Cook claimed it helps him get through his inbox faster. I tried it again, and noticed for the first time that while peeking, you can slide the message left or right to trash or archive it. It really is an efficient way to triage messages, especially ones that you can’t get the gist of from the two- or three-line preview in the message list itself. And, you can drag a message up to get an activity sheet with additional actions, like Reply, Forward, Notify Me, and more. The productivity gain with this workflow is that you don’t have to go “back” after finishing. Peek, swipe to the side to archive, and it’s gone. Anywhere you can peek, try sliding the peek around.

I have only two bad things to say about 3D Touch. First, Apple missed an opportunity to borrow a great feature from Apple Watch. On Apple Watch, you can force touch in the notification list and you get an option to Clear All. 3D Touch has no effect in iOS 9’s notification list, and there remains no way to clear all notifications at once.

Second, I find myself triggering the Quick Action menu inadvertently when I want to enter “jiggle mode” on the home screen, to either delete or move an app. Tap-and-wait long-pressing has always been a little frustrating to me. I don’t like to wait. I’m impatient. So when I go to move an app on the iPhone 6S, I press on it, and more often than not, I press hard enough to register as a 3D Touch. For apps that don’t have any Quick Actions (which is to say, as of this writing, all third-party apps), what happens next is that you get a wee bit of haptic feedback to let you know your press registered as a 3D Touch event, but that there are no Quick Actions for this app. It feels like two very quick gentle taps. This haptic feedback is very clever. There is no alert, and no sound. Just that little feedback that feels like the haptic equivalent of your phone telling you “Uh-uh”. But the experience is frustrating, because now it’s taking me even longer to enter jiggle mode: first, without thinking about what I’m doing, I accidentally trigger the “Uh-uh, no quick actions for this app” 3D Touch. Then I have to let go, purposefully tap-and-hold gently, and wait. I expect to get used to this over time, but at this point, 3D Touch and long-pressing feel like they’re at odds with each other.

Overall, it seems very clear to me that 3D Touch will spread across the entire iOS device line. Like Touch ID and retina displays, it’s simply debuting on the iPhone first.

Taptic Engine

Speaking of the new Taptic Engine, it’s excellent. It doesn’t just provide for 3D Touch feedback, but it also serves as the vibrator for notifications. It is stronger, more noticeable, and in my opinion more pleasing than any previous iPhone vibrator. Back in 2011, Apple switched to a superior oscillating vibrator in the iPhone 4S (and the Verizon/CDMA iPhone 4). All previous iPhones used a cheaper rotational vibrator. The oscillating vibrator in the iPhone 4S was noticeably nicer. For whatever reason, Apple went back to a rotational vibrator in the iPhone 5, and stuck with it through the iPhone 6. The new taptic engine in the 6S feels as good or better than the old iPhone 4S vibrator. It’s just stronger and more pleasing.

The 3D Touch feedback is well-designed. Peeks feel gentle, pops feel stronger — sort of like a half tap and a full tap. When you press something in the interface that has only one level of 3D Touch (like the Quick Action menu on a home screen icon), you get the full-strength tap feedback, which is a way of letting you know, by feel, that there’s no reason to press harder. If you feel a peek, you know you can press hard to pop; if you feel a pop, you know you’re done. Once you get used to it, peek/pop is as intuitive as the shutter button on a camera, where you can press halfway to engage autofocus and set the exposure, and press the rest of the way to take a picture.


Speaking of which, the iPhone 6S cameras are terrific. They’re fast, responsive, and accurate — accurate meaning that unedited, right off the camera roll, the color and light reproduction look like how the scene appeared to my eyes. More than any other aspect of the iPhone, the camera exemplifies the advantages of Apple’s integration of hardware and software.

I’m still not sure what to make of the Live Photos feature. Is it a gimmick? I don’t know. But I’m still shooting with the feature turned on. Technically, the way it seems to work is that the iPhone creates two files: a 12 MP JPEG (exactly the same as when you shoot a still image with Live Photo disabled), and a three-second-long MOV file. When looked at through Image Capture on a Mac running OS X 10.10.x, you see both files in the iPhone camera roll: “IMG_1234.JPG” and “IMG_1234.MOV”. Both files have same numeric index after the “IMG_” prefix, and both files have the same creation date. The MOV file is 1440 × 1080 pixels, at 12.77 frames-per-second.

Technically, of course, a MOV file is a video. But I think one of the reasons Apple is adamantly refusing to describe Live Photos as “video” is that these animated sidecars aren’t high-quality videos in and of themselves. That they are video files, under the hood, is just an implementation detail.

It’s also worth emphasizing that these Live Photos are not implemented by burst mode. You can still engage burst mode by holding down the shutter button, but you still only get about six or seven frames per second. When taking a burst of stills, Live Photo is disabled — you just get a regular series of still images, grouped together in the camera roll just like on the iPhone 6.

So the way Live Photo works, I think, is this: when you’re in still photo mode with Live Photo turned on, the iPhone is constantly capturing 1440 × 1080 video at 12.77 FPS, but keeping only the most recent 1.5 seconds. Then when you tap the shutter to capture a still, it takes a 12-megapixel still image in between capturing frames of the video. Then the camera continues capturing another 1.5 seconds of video. So you wind up with 1.5 seconds of video prior to hitting the shutter, one still image at the maximum resolution of the image sensor, and another 1.5 seconds of video from after the shutter press. Because there is only one 12-megapixel still image captured, you can’t change the “key frame” of a Live Photo.

In iOS 9.0, the timing of this video capture is hard-coded. You get 3 seconds of video — 1.5 seconds on each side of the still capture — every time. This means, however, if you snap your photo and then lower the camera, you wind up with a “droop” at the end of your live photo animation — usually a blurry view of the floor. Apple has already addressed this in the betas for iOS 9.1. In 9.1, the camera will use the accelerometer to detect when you lower the camera after snapping a shot, and truncate the animation at that point. So in 9.0, all live photos are 3 seconds long, but many will have an unfortunate droop at the end. Starting in 9.1, live photos will be up to 3 seconds long, with no droops.

You cannot edit Live Photos. Well, you can edit them, but doing so turns them into stills.

One other camera feature demands mention, and it breaks my heart. Last year, the iPhone 6 Plus, and only the Plus, included optical image stabilization. This year, OIS remains a Plus-only feature, and Apple has made it even better, because it now works with video. The advantages of OIS for video are even greater than for still images, in my opinion. You know how when you watch a video someone shot on their phone — any phone — and when they walk around, you can see the picture rock up and down with each step they take? It’s a signature of amateur video shot on consumer cameras, and it’s unpleasant to say the least.

OIS for video reduces this jerkiness. And in my testing on the iPhone 6S Plus, the effect is dramatic. It’s a poor man’s Steadicam, built right into the iPhone 6S Plus. I say that this breaks my heart because, personally, I have no interest in owning the 6S Plus — I much prefer the pocketability and feel-in-hand of the 4.7-inch iPhone 6S. I could tell myself last year that the 6 Plus’s camera was only a wee bit better than the regular 6’s, and only under certain conditions. This year, OIS for video means the iPhone 6S Plus is capable of something the regular 6S is not: shooting smooth full-size videos while you walk around or pan the camera.3

Lastly, I can’t write about the camera without complaining that the bump for the lens is still there. I understand the physics and optics involved, but it bothers me every single day that I can feel that nubbin. The best argument for forgiving the camera bump is that a vast majority of iPhone owners use a case of some sort, and with a case, the camera bump is a non-issue. But for those of us who don’t use cases, and who appreciate Apple’s general attention to every little detail, it’s a very minor but daily irritation. My number one hope for next year is that Apple can continue to improve image quality while somehow getting rid of the bump.


  • One thing that hasn’t changed from last year’s iPhone 6 models: storage tiers of 16, 64, and 128 GB. The units I received for testing (one 6S, one 6S Plus) were both 128 GB. I’m sure most people can get by easily with the 64 GB models. For anyone who is not completely certain that they don’t need much storage, I would recommend against the 16 GB models. It’s too easy to fill them up. I wish Apple had switched the baseline from 16 to 32 GB. 4K video is off by default (the default is 1080p at 30 FPS), but forget about shooting 4K with a 16 GB device. Apple says 4K video takes up 375 MB per minute.

    Here’s the thing that nags me whenever I complain about these 16 GB phones. My gut feeling is that they’re too small. Data from third-party app analytics suggests they’re too small for many of the people who buy them. But Apple has more data on iPhone usage than anyone, and the company is obsessed with customer satisfaction. They measure customer satisfaction through surveys as accurately and scientifically as they can. How often does Tim Cook speak in public without the words “customer sat” coming out of his mouth? If last year’s 16 GB baseline adversely affected customer satisfaction, you’d think Apple would have done something about it this year, right? The only other explanation that makes sense is that it does adversely affect customer satisfaction, but they’re willing to take the hit in the name of higher average selling prices, because of the people who wind up buying 64 GB models who would have bought a 32 GB model for $100 less if that had been an option. Again, to me, 16/64/128 is not good/better/best — it’s OK/better/best.

  • Also seemingly unchanged from last year: the effective battery life of the device. I didn’t perform any sort of battery life tests, but in heavy daily usage, the iPhone 6S felt like it got the same battery life as the iPhone 6 I’ve been using for a year. No better, no worse. Like last year, the iPhone 6S Plus clearly gets way better battery life than the regular 6S, simply because it has room for a far larger battery.

  • The 6S models are heavier than last year’s phones: the 6S is 14 grams heavier than the 6 (143/129g); the 6S Plus is 20 grams heavier than the 6 Plus (192/172g). Some of this might be due to the new Taptic Engine (which looks bigger in Apple’s see-the-components promotional video) and the sensors for 3D Touch, but I presume most of the difference is due to the switch to higher-grade 7000-series aluminum. Well worth it for the additional structural integrity — I don’t expect any complaints about bending this year. [Update: According to The Verge, most of the weight gain is from the touch sensors in the new display assembly, not the aluminum.]

    This is subjective, but it seems to me that the new iPhones feel different to the touch. It’s not dramatic, but I think they’re less slippery. I’ve gone case-less with every iPhone I’ve owned, and the only one I’ve ever dropped and had the screen crack was the iPhone 6. The larger size and rounded edges made the iPhone 6 less grip-able than my beloved old iPhone 5S. It could just be the extra weight, but in blind testing, I can feel the difference between my old iPhone 6 and the new 6S. It’s just a wee bit more tacky, and it’s either due to the material, or the wear and tear of a year’s usage on my iPhone 6.

  • Apple is billing the new Touch ID sensor as “up to 2× faster”. They’re underselling it. It’s so fast now that every single time I press it, it unlocks the phone, no matter how brief the contact is between my finger and the sensor. I can sit here and try to use the home button to get to the lock screen, and I can’t unless I purposefully only touch a small portion of the button or use an unregistered finger. It’s that fast. This actually takes some getting used it, if, like me, you sometimes use the home button just to get to the lock screen to check the date or time. With the new Touch ID sensor, the home button instantly unlocks the phone and I need to use the sleep/wake button to get to the lock screen.

  • You know those FCC-mandated regulatory logos etched on the back of your iPhone? They’re gone. Last year the FCC issued new guidelines that allow manufacturers to put all these labels in software, for display on screen, and Apple has done just that. (You can see them in Settings: General: Regulatory.) It’s such a little thing, but those little turds have always bothered me. Curiously, one previous iPhone also lacked these regulatory etchings: the Verizon iPhone 4. I have no idea why that one iPhone was able to omit them but subsequent ones were not.

    Replacing the regulatory turds is a simple “S” under the “iPhone” on the back of the phone. Previous S-model iPhones were not labeled as such.

  • I don’t plan to use one, but Apple’s new cases are very nice. Both the silicone and leather cases come in nicer colors than last year — and they complement/match Apple’s lineup of Sport and leather straps for Apple Watch nicely. They really seem to have upped their game with leatherwork. Just for kicks I spent a few days of my review period with the iPhone 6S in the saddle brown case, and I really liked the way it looked and felt. It seems like the sort of leather that will look better as it ages. The biggest thing keeping me from using this case for real, going forward, is that the raised edge along the side of the display gets in the way of performing edge-based gestures, primarily swiping to go back, and the new press-and-swipe to switch between apps with 3D Touch.

The Bottom Line

New-number iPhones (4, 5, 6) are about showing off Apple’s design prowess. The S models are about showing off Apple’s engineering prowess. Storage capacities and battery life are unchanged from last year’s iPhones. Everything else — the materials they’re made from, the performance of their custom CPU/GPU, the quality of the cameras, the smoothness of the user interface — is noticeably, tangibly improved. 

  1. There might be other examples, but in tech the most well-known example of this strategy is Intel’s CPU schedule: one generation is a new microarchitecture (big new change) and the next is a shrinking of the previous one. What isn’t obvious is that the “tocks” are the new microarchitectures, and the “ticks” are the die shrinkings. So for iPhones, the S models are the ticks, and the new form factors are the tocks. That seems counter-intuitive, of course, because we say “tick-tock” but the tocks come before the ticks. That’s kind of stupid if you ask me, so if you want to call the new form factor models the ticks and the S models the tocks, go right ahead. ↩︎

  2. What does “stronger” mean? More scratch-resistant? Less prone to cracking when dropped? Both? I don’t know, and when I asked, no one at Apple would say. ↩︎︎

  3. There are a few apps for the iPhone that implement image-stabilization for video in software. Two that I’m aware of are Hyperlapse (from Instagram) and Horizon. Both apps work well, but there’s no way to cheat true optical image stabilization. These apps smooth out the motion in video by cropping the frames. So you lose some resolution and wind up with a narrow field of view. The bigger downside is that you have remember to use these apps before you start shooting. When I see something I want to capture, I’m already in the system Camera app before I think about it. ↩︎︎

How to Turn iOS 9’s Keyboard Back to All Caps

iOS 9’s keyboard has a big change: the alphabetic key caps change case — they’re lowercase when typing lowercase, uppercase when Shift or Caps Lock is engaged. Android and Windows Phone keyboards have always done this.

I don’t like it, and I’m not alone.

The good news: You can turn this off and go back to the way the keyboard was meant to be, with all caps alphabetic keys all the time. The confusing part: For some reason, the setting for this is not in Settings: General: Keyboard. Instead, it’s in Settings: General: Accessibility: Keyboard.

Some people love this feature, so it’s great that it’s a setting. I dislike it because having the keys change automatically while I’m looking at the keyboard makes it look like it’s vibrating or flickering. I spent a week with the case-shifting enabled this summer (using the iOS 9 betas) and it drove me nuts. To me it’s distracting and looks a little cheap, and if it were up to me, it wouldn’t be the default.

The main argument I’ve seen in favor of this change holds no water: that this is the solution to iOS 7’s is-it-on-or-is-it-off? Schrödinger’s Shift Key. The proper solution to an ambiguous Shift key is to replace it with an unambiguous Shift key. The lack of case shifting on the keyboard was not a problem on iOS 1-6 because the Shift key on the old keyboard was unambiguous. Whether you prefer a case-shifting keyboard or not, the Shift key should be unambiguous. These are two different things.

The good news is, Apple did improve the Shift key on iOS 9. When not engaged, the arrow glyph on the key cap is now hollow. When Shift is engaged, the key turns white and the arrow is solid black. With Caps Lock on, the arrow gets an underscore.

One more iOS 9 change to the iPhone keyboard: there is now an option not to show the popup character preview as you type (Settings: General: Keyboard: Character Preview). The iPad keyboard has never shown these previews, presumably because the keys are big enough that you can see the keys themselves highlight as you tap them. Prior to iOS 9, however, the iPhone keyboard has always shown them.

While running beta versions of iOS 9 over the summer, I tried turning off character previews, but soon turned them back on. I’m just too accustomed to them after eight years of daily iPhone use. With previews off, it feels to me like the keyboard isn’t working.

[Update: At one point during the summer, the iOS 9 betas were defaulting to not show character previews, and I incorrectly assumed this was still the case when I first published this piece. In the release version of iOS 9.0, characters previews remain on by default, and I’ve rewritten the above accordingly. Sorry for any confusion.] 

De Facto Veto Power

Thom Holwerda posted a link on OSNews to my comments about Apple effectively having veto power over new web technologies. He didn’t add much commentary, other than:

What could possibly go wrong.

I’ll save you a link hover — “wrong” links to Wikipedia’s entry on IE 6.

The comments on Holwerda’s piece are interesting, insofar as they convey the frustration of those who resent Apple’s position.

It has nagged me ever since the “Safari Is the New IE” debate erupted a few months ago that there’s a simple, succinct, counterargument. I just couldn’t put my finger on it. Reading Holwerda’s post yesterday, it popped into my head. The difference is that IE 6, at its peak, wasn’t just so popular that it allowed Microsoft to unduly influence the direction of the web — IE 6 was so popular that it allowed Microsoft to define the web. It was as though IE 6 was the web. When banking sites required ActiveX plugins, they were making websites that only worked in Internet Explorer, only on Windows. In the eyes of many web developers and publishers, it was the one and only browser that mattered.

The web today is nothing like that. No single browser (or rendering engine) has an overwhelmingly dominant position. Four browsers/rendering engines share the world: Microsoft’s IE/Trident (and now the modernized Windows 10 browser, Edge), Mozilla’s Gecko, Apple’s Safari/WebKit, and Google’s Chrome/Blink. In a world where one rendering engine does not rule the entire web, conflicts between the various popular engines are inevitable.

There are a lot of nerds — and I use that term affectionately, not pejoratively — for whom politics of any sort are just anathema. Government, office, standards body — any sort of politics. Politics are often illogical, and often unfair. Nerds crave logic and fairness. Because of this willful political blindness, my main point regarding Apple’s veto power over web browser technologies is missed by some. It isn’t whether it is right or wrong, fair or unfair, that they have this power. Nor is it whether Apple’s strategy is the correct one. It’s simply to point out that they have this veto power. And so do Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla — Apple isn’t any more powerful than the others. (Except Mozilla, which I’d argue is the least powerful of the big four rendering engine makers — see below.) What makes Apple and Safari stand out isn’t that they have more influence. It’s that Apple’s interests have diverged from those of a certain segment of the web development community — the segment interested in making mobile web apps more like native apps.

WebKit’s contrary priorities are not the result of disinterest in the web; they are the result of differing interest in the web.

As for how Apple can simply do what it wants, consider the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council: the United States, United Kingdom, France, China, and Russia. They each have veto power over any resolution. Critics complain that this veto power is undemocratic. Of course it is! These are the countries that won World War II and are officially recognized as nuclear-weapon states. Democratically, it isn’t fair that each member gets veto power. But a nuclear weapon arsenal gives each country geopolitical influence that cannot be denied or ignored. Might makes right. Whether that is how it ought to be doesn’t matter. That’s how it is.

There is no official “Web Standards Security Council”, but web browsing market share creates a de facto one. Apple (or Google, or Microsoft, or Mozilla) can’t single-handedly veto a new API from becoming an official W3C standard, but if any one of them decides not to implement it, it can’t be relied upon by web developers. The real web is not that which is defined by the W3C as a standard,1 but that which is implemented in a consistent manner across WebKit, Blink, Trident, and Gecko. The secret to the web’s wonderful success is that it’s a (nearly) universal meta-platform; that which is not implemented on a major platform, like, say, iOS, is by definition not universal.

The web community cannot compel any of these browser engine makers to implement a standard. Nothing the community does will make Apple, Microsoft, or Google act against their own self interests. Mozilla is a little different — they are of the web community. They control no popular device platform on which Mozilla is the factory-installed default browser. But in that same way, the other companies could not force Mozilla to accept the patent-encumbered H.264 standard for HTML 5 video. Mozilla stood its ground, on principle — effectively exercising its own de facto veto power. Years later they changed their mind in the face of overwhelming demand and the failure of WebM to catch on. (They should have seen supporting H.264 as inevitable as far back as 2010, but it was their prerogative to remain blinded by political high-mindedness in the name of “openness”.) The same will happen with any web technologies that Apple is slow to adopt. If such standards become popular in Chrome, IE, and Mozilla — popular in such a way that it becomes obvious that iOS users are missing on something everyone else is enjoying — Apple will be forced to relent, because it will be obvious that it’s in their own self-interest to do so. And if these web technologies don’t catch on, and pressure from real-world widespread usage doesn’t weigh upon Apple, there’s nothing the web developer community can do about it.

I’m not saying that’s good or bad. It just is how it is. 

  1. If that were the case, we’d all be generating XHTML 2.x markup, and HTML 5 — which is what we’re all actually generating — wouldn’t even exist. ↩︎

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