Squarespace 

My thanks to Squarespace for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. I’m sure you’ve already heard of Squarespace — it’s an all-in-one website builder that covers everything from design and layout to domain name registration and the actual hosting of the site.

Squarespace keeps evolving though, so if you haven’t checked them out recently, you should. Needs vary. That’s why Squarespace recently launched three website products, each catered to the needs of different creative people. Cover Pages are single-page websites that are perfect for when your idea is just starting out. Have products to sell? Squarespace Commerce is robust enough to be both online storefront and business manager. For something in between, Squarespace Websites provide beautiful, versatile templates that help you create the exact site you’ve always wanted. Learn which product is right for you. Start today with a free trial and use offer code DARING for 10 percent off.

Why a Die-Hard Mechanical Watch Lover Can’t Get the Apple Watch Off His Wrist 

Jack Forster, who has covered the mechanical watch industry professionally for two decades, writing for Hodinkee:

I think the Apple Watch is winning the smartwatch wars right now for several reasons: better UI is one (I struggle to find Android Wear compelling, in any form, at least so far) and its ability to keep your phone in your pocket, and your head up, is another. One of its biggest secrets, though, is this: it shows every indication of having been made by people who love and understand watches, and who know that for any kind of wearable to succeed, it has to be love at first sight. And that’s why it’s not only a threat to other smartwatches, but to mechanical watchmaking. It’s a truism in watchmaking that the face sells the watch, but that truism is based on something bigger, which is that for something you’re going to have on your skin all day, you decide in microseconds, and with your heart, not your head, whether it’s for you. I used the word “seduced” several times in writing about Apple Watch, because its ability to be instantly seductive is the reason you give everything else about it a chance. The Apple Watch is seductive; Google Glass was not, and the rest is history.

Ad Age Retracts Claim That Google Will Favor AMP Pages in Search Results 

Important correction from Ad Age, regarding the claim earlier this week that Google would favor AMP page in search results. The story now reads:

And, crucially, Google favors faster* sites over others with the same search score in the results it shows consumers, said Richard Gingras, senior director, news and social products at Google.

“Clearly, AMP takes speed to a point of extreme,” Mr. Gingras said. “So, obviously we look to leverage that. Again, it is only one signal. AMP doesn’t mean adopt AMP and get a massive boost in search ranking. That is not the case. All of the other signals need to be satisfied as well. But without question speed matters. If we had two articles that from a signaling perspective scored the same in all other characteristics but for speed, then yes we will give an emphasis to the one with speed because that is what users find compelling.”

The footnote on “faster” reads:

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Google would favor AMP sites in search results over others with otherwise identical scores. Google will simply favor faster sites. We regret the error.

Good to know.

Hollywood Reporter: ‘Dr. Dre Filming Apple’s First Scripted Television Series’ 

Michael O’Connell and Lesley Goldberg, reporting for The Hollywood Reporter:

Apple is making its first original television show. The Hollywood Reporter has learned that the technology giant is backing a top-secret scripted series starring one of its own executives, Beats co-founder and rap legend Dr. Dre.

Multiple sources say the 50-year-old mogul is starring in and executive producing his own six-episode vehicle, dubbed Vital Signs, and the production is being bankrolled by Apple. The series likely will be distributed via Apple Music, the company’s subscription streaming site, but it’s not clear if Apple TV, the iTunes store or other Apple platforms (or even a traditional television distributor) will be involved. Apple and a rep for Dre declined to comment.

If only this news had broken before I had Eddy Cue on my podcast. Interesting to think about how Apple would (will?) charge for exclusive content. Making it free for Apple Music subscribers is one idea, but if that’s the case, why did they call it “Apple Music”? What if it’s free for anyone with Apple TV?

It doesn’t sound very Disney-like, either:

While technically a half-hour, the show is not a comedy. Instead, it is described as a dark drama with no shortage of violence and sex. In fact, an episode filming Monday and Tuesday this week featured an extended orgy scene. Sources tell THR that naked extras simulated sex in a mansion in the Bird Streets neighborhood of Los Angeles’ Hollywood Hills.

The Talk Show, With Very Special Guests Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi 

Drop what you’re doing and find a pair of headphones: my guests on this special episode of my podcast are Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi. It’s a wide-ranging discussion, and includes a bunch of interesting scoops: the weekly number of iTunes and App Store transactions, an updated Apple Music subscriber count, peak iMessage traffic per second, the number of iCloud account holders, and more.

If you’re new to the show, you can subscribe via iTunes or RSS.

This special episode was sponsored exclusively by Meh.com.

Gravitational Waves Explained 

Fun follow-up to today’s big news — a cartoon explaining how gravitational waves work.

Gravitational Waves Exist: The Inside Story of How Scientists Finally Found Them 

Great piece by Nicola Twilley for The New Yorker on the team that made this discovery:

Just over a billion years ago, many millions of galaxies from here, a pair of black holes collided. They had been circling each other for aeons, in a sort of mating dance, gathering pace with each orbit, hurtling closer and closer. By the time they were a few hundred miles apart, they were whipping around at nearly the speed of light, releasing great shudders of gravitational energy. Space and time became distorted, like water at a rolling boil. In the fraction of a second that it took for the black holes to finally merge, they radiated a hundred times more energy than all the stars in the universe combined. They formed a new black hole, sixty-two times as heavy as our sun and almost as wide across as the state of Maine. As it smoothed itself out, assuming the shape of a slightly flattened sphere, a few last quivers of energy escaped. Then space and time became silent again.

NYT: Pandora Is Said to Have Held Talks About Selling Itself 

Leslie Picker and Ben Sisario, reporting for the NYT:

Pandora Media, the largest Internet radio service, has held discussions about selling the company, according to people briefed on the talks. […]

For Pandora, it would be a curious time to sell. Its shares are yielding a market value of $1.8 billion, down from more than $7 billion two years ago. The stock has fallen more than 60 percent since October.

Pandora has the largest number of users for music streaming, but the competition is encroaching. Spotify is said to be arming itself with another $500 million in capital, and Apple Music recently surpassed 10 million paying users. Pandora’s users peaked at 81.5 million at the end of 2014, declining to 78.1 million in the third quarter.

The streaming business is cutthroat.

Time Inc. Acquires Myspace 

Lara O’Reilly, reporting for Business Insider:

Time Inc., the owner of Time, Fortune, and People magazines, has acquired Viant, the parent company of Myspace. Joe Ripp, chairman and CEO of Time Inc., described the acquisition as “game changing” in a press release.

What year is it?

American Pharoah’s Second Life as a $200k-a-Night Stud 

Fascinating feature by Monte Reel for Bloomberg on the business and process of putting champion thoroughbred horses out to stud:

The verb to use in polite company is “cover.” The stud covers the mare. Or: About 11 months after she was covered, the mare gave birth to a healthy foal.

The deed itself, here in the hills of Kentucky horse country, is governed by strict rules. Section V, paragraph D of The American Stud Book Principal Rules and Requirements is clear: “Any foal resulting from or produced by the processes of Artificial Insemination, Embryo Transfer or Transplant, Cloning or any other form of genetic manipulation not herein specified, shall not be eligible for registration.” No shortcuts, no gimmicks. All thoroughbreds must be the product of live, all-natural, horse-on-horse action.

There are some guys in this industry with really, really weird jobs.

(Via Dave Pell’s excellent NextDraft.)

Gravitational Waves Detected, Confirming Einstein’s Theory 

Dennis Overbye, reporting for the NYT:

A team of physicists who can now count themselves as astronomers announced on Thursday that they had heard and recorded the sound of two black holes colliding a billion light-years away, a fleeting chirp that fulfilled the last prophecy of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

That faint rising tone, physicists say, is the first direct evidence of gravitational waves, the ripples in the fabric of space-time that Einstein predicted a century ago (Listen to it here.). And it is a ringing (pun intended) confirmation of the nature of black holes, the bottomless gravitational pits from which not even light can escape, which were the most foreboding (and unwelcome) part of his theory.

More generally, it means that scientists have finally tapped into the deepest register of physical reality, where the weirdest and wildest implications of Einstein’s universe become manifest.

Remarkable science, and a testimony to Einstein’s extraordinary genius.

Don’t skip the video — it’s wonderful.

The Talk Show: ‘Anthropomorphic Human Bowel’ 

New episode of my podcast, The Talk Show, with special guest Ben Thompson. Topics include last Sunday’s Super Bowl 50 (and its mostly terrible commercials), Tim Cook’s tweet with a photo he took from the sidelines post-game, Twitter’s algorithmic timeline and the state of today’s Google- and Facebook-dominated online advertising industry, Yahoo’s gloomy prospects, and more.

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Comparing Tech Companies by Revenue and Profit Per Employee, 2015 

Two tweets from Dustin Curtis that tell a big story.

Donald Trump’s ‘The Art of the Deal: The Movie’ 

Long-thought lost, but recovered by Ron Howard. Looking forward to watching this tonight.

(Interesting sidenote: “For the best viewing experience, get the Funny Or Die app for Apple TV.”)

Google AMP Launch Looms 

George Slefo, reporting for Advertising Age:

In short, AMP is like a diet version of HTML. It is extremely fast and incredibly quick when it comes to loading. JavaScript is essentially non-existent, for now at least, and images won’t load until they’re in the user’s view. AMP will also deliver content much faster because it will be cached via the cloud, meaning Google won’t have to fetch it from a publisher’s site each time a request is made.

The end result is a near instantaneous content delivery system.

Sounds great.

Come launch, publishers will be able to track analytics and sell ads. Solutions for paywalls were put into place Tuesday. And, crucially, Google will favor AMP sites over others with the same search score in the results it shows consumers, said Richard Gingras, senior director, news and social products at Google.

Hmm.

Update: Rafe Colburn:

Does Google AMP offer any advantage (other than reduced effort) over building something yourself with the same goals as AMP?

What if it doesn’t even involve reduced efforts. What about a site that already delivers clean HTML markup, minimal-to-no JavaScript, and images that load on demand (or, cough, a site with few-to-no images)? Why would Google favor an AMP site over such a site in search results?

Update 2: Ad Age has filed a correction to the story that retracts the claim that Google will favor AMP pages in search results.

Amazon’s Updated AWS Service Terms 

Lengthy, as you’d expect for the terms of service for something like AWS. I’ll simply draw your attention to section 57.10, near the end.

A UX Designer’s Review of iPad Pro 

Amanda Somers:

Starting with an inspiration phase we would look for imagery online while we sketch and hash out rough ideas. After sketching, erasing, sweeping up eraser dust off our desks and repeating that a dozen times, we would draw iPhone or iPad sized screens on paper to eventually fill with promising candidates from our sketching session. After a couple iterations we usually share a version for a design review. […]

iPad Pro eliminates eraser dust and stacks of unnecessary paper sketches. Now we are able to copy and paste a sketch we’ve done, erase parts we don’t like and iterate on top of that. From there, we can simply Airdrop the sketch to our computers.

It’s easy for many people to forget just how much design and illustration work still happens on paper — iPad Pro and Apple Pencil seem to be moving the needle on this.

Vector Networks, an Alternative to Paths 

Evan Wallace:

Before I co-founded Figma my background was in game development, not in design. I remember being very surprised when I first encountered modern vector editing tools. Many of the interactions felt broken. Why couldn’t you just manipulate things directly? Why did connecting and disconnecting stuff only sometimes work? Is this the best we can do?

The pen tool as we know it today was originally introduced in 1987 and has remained largely unchanged since then. We decided to try something new when we set out to build the vector editing toolset for Figma. Instead of using paths like other tools, Figma is built on something we’re calling vector networks which are backwards-compatible with paths but which offer much more flexibility and control.

I have never been able to make heads or tails out of Illustrator’s vector design tools. (R.I.P. Freehand.) The Figma designers have come up with something truly novel — looking forward to trying this.

Free as in Frightening 

From a Wired profile of Android founder Andy Rubin:

Rubin is typically tight-lipped about his plans — he refused to comment, for instance, on a recent report in The Information that he’s building a new Android phone. When pressed, he says he is in fact working on a dashcam, which he plans to give away in exchange for its data — potentially allowing Playground to build a real-time visual map of the world. And he has other ideas, he says, “that I’m not willing to talk about.”

I like the Engadget piece on this: “Android Creator Andy Rubin Is Making a Free Dashcam: You’ll Just Have to Give Up Its Data in Exchange.”

That’s one hell of a “just”.

Getting Ahead vs. Doing Well 

Seth Godin:

One unspoken objection to raising the minimum wage is that people, other people, those people, will get paid a little more. Which might make getting ahead a little harder. When we raise the bottom, this thinking goes, it gets harder to move to the top.

After a company in Seattle famously raised its lowest wage tier to $70,000, two people (who got paid more than most of the other workers) quit, because they felt it wasn’t fair that people who weren’t as productive as they were were going to get a raise.

They quit a good job, a job they liked, because other people got a raise.

This is our culture of ‘getting ahead’ talking.

This is the thinking that, “First class isn’t better because of the seats, it’s better because it’s not coach.” (Several airlines have tried to launch all-first-class seating, and all of them have stumbled.)

Teenagers and Snapchat 

BuzzFeed’s Ben Rosen interviewed his 13-year-old sister to learn how she uses Snapchat:

I’m mesmerized. What’s even the point of sending snaps to each other if you don’t look at them? Am I crazy? That seems so unnecessary. Still, this is adult-brain talking. If I wanted to be one of the teens, I needed to just accept it and press on.

ME: What does Dad say when he sees you doing this?

BROOKE: Parents don’t understand. It’s about being there in the moment. Capturing that with your friends or with your expression. One of the biggest fights kids have with their parents is about data usage.

ME: Really? Because you’re using too much?

BROOKE: Yeah. This one girl I know uses 60 gigabytes every month.

ME: 60 GIGS?!?!? Is that for real??

BROOKE: Yeah. [laughs]

ME: Wow. OK, what else do you do during the day?

BROOKE: I look at the new filters. Those are VERY big. I’ve only bought about three of them, but there are new ones, like, every day.

ME: How often are you on Snapchat?

BROOKE: On a day without school? There’s not a time when I’m not on it. I do it while I watch Netflix, I do it at dinner, and I do it when people around me are being awkward. That app is my life.

The Reality of Missing Out 

Ben Thompson:

But remember the adage: it’s the customers that matter, and from an advertiser’s perspective Facebook and Twitter are absolutely comparable, which is the root of the problem for the latter. Digital advertising is becoming a rather simple proposition: Facebook, Google, or don’t bother.

Arriving at San Francisco 

Speaking of typography and new typefaces, Nick Keppol of MartianCraft has put together an epic two-part series analyzing Apple’s new San Francisco UI font system. (Part one is a little less about San Francisco in particular and more about the fundamentals of typography in general.)

Operator — New Monospace Typeface From Hoefler & Co. 

New from Hoefler & Co.: “a monospace typeface, a monospace-inspired typeface, and a short film about type design”. Jonathan Hoefler:

In developing Operator, we found ourselves talking about JavaScript and CSS, looking for vinyl label embossers on eBay, renting a cantankerous old machine from perhaps the last typewriter repair shop in New York, and unearthing a flea market find that amazingly dates to 1893. Above is the four-minute film I made, to record a little of what went into Operator, and introduce the team at H&Co behind it.

I heard that Hoefler & Co. were working on a monospace typeface a few months ago, and the result is everything I expected: distinctive, attractive, and practical. The script face for the italics is a little wild, but why not go a little wild on the italics in a monospace typeface? (Meta note: I’m posting this from MarsEdit with Operator Mono as my editing font.)

Roger Goodell’s Unstoppable Football Machine 

Great feature by Mark Leibovich for the NYT Magazine on Roger Goodell and the state of the NFL:

And yet, everyone wants a piece of the Shield. Put it on TV, and people will watch; put it on a jersey, they will wear it. The N.F.L.’s total revenue in 2015 ($12.4 billion) is nearly double that of a decade earlier ($6.6 billion). The price of television ads during the Super Bowl has increased by more than 75 percent over the last decade. This year’s conference championship games set yet another viewership record for the league: 53.3 million people watched the A.F.C. game on CBS; 45.7 million watched the N.F.C. game on Fox. Goodell talks constantly about ‘‘growing the pie,’’ finding new revenue streams and ways to make the N.F.L. a ‘‘year-round’’ experience rather than just during fall and winter. He has said he wants the N.F.L. to achieve $25 billion in gross revenue by 2027. No league is as relentless when it comes to growth and making cash for its billionaire cartel. It’s reminiscent of a shark that will die if it doesn’t keep moving and ripping little fish to shreds.

Just to put that in context with my regular beat, Apple booked over $233 billion in revenue in its 2015 financial year. The NFL is a pervasive, overwhelming cultural force in the United States, but Apple is almost 20 times bigger financially. It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison, for sure, but it helps put into perspective just how big Apple has gotten.

Super Bowl 50 and the Denver Broncos’ Defense 

Michael Rosemberg, writing for Sports Illustrated:

I’m sure we can all agree, right?: The story of Super Bowl 50 was Denver’s defense. Broncos cornerback Chris Harris said “the game plan was so simple” — don’t blitz too much, gang up on the run — and so is this story.

Denver’s defense dominated Cam Newton and the Panthers in a 24–10 victory. Forget the total yards, which were 315–194 in Carolina’s favor, and forget that Carolina had 10 more first downs. It was obvious by halftime that Carolina’s offense, which led the league in scoring, was overmatched.

I had Carolina winning in a blowout. That didn’t work out so well.

An Old-School Reply to an Advertiser’s Retro Threat 

Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway has written the best “go fuck yourself” piece I’ve seen in a long time.

Flash-Free Video in 2016 

Scott Wolynski and Flavio Ribeiro, writing for the NYT Open blog:

At the beginning of this year, we officially turned off Flash support for VHS, the New York Times video player. We now use HTML5 video technology for all video playback on desktop and mobile web browsers.

This might have happened eventually no matter what, but the fact that this is happening now is because of the iPhone, iPad, and Apple’s steadfast refusal to allow browser plugins on iOS.

The Apple Watch Got Marco Arment Hooked on Mechanical Watches 

Marco Arment:

A big part of that joy, for me, is that this isn’t like anything else in my life, and the difference is refreshing.

Most of my work and hobbies involve technologically cutting-edge digital electronics reliant on complex, inconsistent software, with a typical lifetime of a few years at most. Almost everything else I use and make is effectively disposable.

This is a huge part of the appeal of mechanical watches for me. No electricity. Just mechanics. They’re tangible in a way that software never can be.

For similar reasons, I still read most books on paper.

Igloo 

My thanks to Igloo for once again sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Igloo is an intranet you’ll actually like. It can help your company or team share information and collaborate in one unified space — from any device.

Igloo knows love doesn’t happen overnight, so they’ll let you try Igloo free of charge — forever.

‘Error 53’ 

Christina Warren, writing for Mashable:

What is Error 53? Well, it basically turns your iPhone into a brick. Why? Well it all ties into the Touch ID sensor on your phone. […]

The problem occurs when an unauthorized repair center replaces a home button. At first, the phone might work — with everything, including Touch ID, seeming perfectly fine.

But as soon as you go to update to a newer version of iOS (or you attempt to restore your phone from a backup), the software checks to make sure the Touch ID sensor matches the rest of the hardware. If it finds that there isn’t a match, your phone is basically bricked.

It seems very reasonable to me that iOS should check for a trusted Touch ID sensor. But, if the sensor can’t be trusted, clearly the whole phone should not be bricked — it should simply disable Touch ID and Apple Pay. And, obviously, it should inform the user why. Putting up an alert that just says “Error 53” is almost comically bad.

Microsoft, Nokia, and the Burning Platform 

Evan Blass, writing for VentureBeat:

When Microsoft acquired Nokia’s Devices and Services division in late 2013 and began integrating the storied Lumia brand into its offerings, it was hailed by Microsoft’s then-CEO Steve Ballmer as “a bold step into the future — a win-win for employees, shareholders, and consumers of both companies.” Since then, Microsoft has folded much of its $7.5 billion acquisition into other divisions of the company, laid off thousands of former Nokia employees, slashed its output of smartphones per year, and eventually wrote off the entire purchase in a $7.6 billion impairment charge. Fast forward to early 2016, when we will soon see a quiet launch of what’s widely believed to be the final Microsoft Lumia-branded handset, the Lumia 650.

The most amazing part of this whole saga is that Nokia was worth only $7.5 billion in 2013. In 2000, they had a market cap of $245 billion.

Spencer Hall: ‘I Won the Super Bowl in a McLaren 570S’ 

Nice take on what it’s like to drive a $190,000 sports car.

Update on That Atlanta House Where Dozens of Missing Phones Think They Are 

Kashmir Hill, following up on this story from a few weeks ago:

Maynor thinks it’s possible that an app seeking to better locate a phone might take the IP-based location and then look next to a mapping database of wireless devices it knows in the area; with little to choose from there, it may be locking onto Lee and Saba’s router as the closest to the IP-chosen location and then pinpoint them as the exact location of the phone.

But he’s still uncertain. Maynor says he feels like Sherlock Holmes trying to solve this tech mystery.

“These are theories and I am trying to prove them. It’s like that Conan Doyle quote, ‘Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth,’” said Maynor. “But I’m still not satisfied. I want to find more of a smoking gun. We need to know what app people are using to find their phones and then look at what databases they’re relying on for location.”

Completely tangential sidenote: Longtime DF readers will recall Dave Maynor’s name.

Fred Wilson Criticizes Uber CEO Travis Kalanick for Waiting to IPO 

Biz Carson, writing for Business Insider:

“I agree with Bill Gurley on this. Man up! Woman up! Fucking do it! Don’t be chicken!” Wilson ranted, referring to another outspoken VC.

One company in Wilson’s crosshairs is Uber, the ride-hailing company valued at more than $62 billion in the private market. Its CEO, Travis Kalanick, does not appear to be in any hurry to take the company public. Kalanick sees an Uber IPO as being a few years off still, and has compared its situation to being like an eighth-grader while people are telling them to go to the prom.

Wilson, who isn’t an investor in the company, doesn’t buy it. “He’s wimping out. That should be a publicly traded company,” Wilson said.

A VC upset that a company is not going public, thus preventing other VCs from reaping huge profits? Shocker.

Tim Cook Holds Company-Wide Town Hall 

Mark Gurman, 9to5Mac:

In the days following Apple’s record Q1 earnings announcements, Apple CEO Tim Cook and other top Apple executives held a Town Hall meeting at the Infinite Loop headquarters in Cupertino to reveal new announcements and take attendee questions.

Multiple sources in attendance at the event said that Cook as well as newly appointed Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams each spoke and made announcements and teases related to new employee benefits, future iPad growth, Apple Watch sales, future retail stores in China, Apple Campus 2, and the future product pipeline. […]

Lots of interesting tidbits, including the fact that Apple Watch sold better in its first holiday quarter than the original iPhone did in 2007.

He also touched upon the new Cupertino Apple Campus 2, noting that Apple employees will likely first begin moving into the new campus by the end of January 2017. He emphasized how important the new theater will be in giving Apple flexibility to hold larger events on its own campus versus relying on places in San Fransisco or San Jose. Cook reportedly called the new campus a “gift” to the future of Apple employees.

It occurs to me that next month’s Apple Event might be the last one ever held in the small theater on Apple’s existing campus.

Louis C.K. on Why He Charged $5 for the First Episode of ‘Horace and Pete’ 

Louis C.K.:

So why the dirty fuckballs did I charge you five dollars for Horace and Pete, where most TV shows you buy online are 3 dollars or less? Well, the dirty unmovable fact is that this show is fucking expensive.

The standup specials are much more containable. It’s one guy on a stage in a theater and in most cases, the cost of the tickets that the live audience paid, was enough to finance the filming.

But Horace and Pete is a full on TV production with four broadcast cameras, two beautiful sets and a state of the art control room and a very talented and skilled crew and a hall-of-fame cast. Every second the cameras are rolling, money is shooting out of my asshole like your mother’s worst diarrhea. (Yes there are less upsetting metaphors I could be using but I just think that one is the sharpest and most concise). Basically this is a hand-made, one guy paid for it version of a thing that is usually made by a giant corporation.

I watched the first episode. It’s a really unusual show. On the surface level, it feels very familiar, with a cast of well-known actors and a very traditional old-school multi-camera look and feel. Horace and Pete looks like an old CBS show, in particular, to my eyes.

But what the characters do and say, and what is going on in their lives, is nothing at all like traditional TV. It makes for an interesting juxtaposition — familiar comfort-food in terms of how it looks, but unconventional in terms of what is actually going on.

In just two words: “dystopic Cheers”.

Amazon’s Retail Store Plans Go Beyond Books 

Jason Del Rey, reporting for Recode:

Amazon will indeed open up more bookstores, but it also plans to eventually unveil other types of retail stores in addition to bookstores, according to two sources familiar with the plans. It’s not yet clear what those stores will sell or how they will be formatted, but the retail team’s mission is to reimagine what shopping in a physical store would be like if you merged the best of physical retail with the best of Amazon.

So they’ll start with books, then expand to other products. Sounds familiar.

Yours Truly on Josh Topolsky’s ‘Tomorrow’ Podcast 

What I like about doing podcasts with Josh is that we disagree on so much — it’s fun, and he always makes me think.

Music Memos Is a Songwriter’s Best Friend 

Dave Wiskus, writing for iMore:

If Voice Memos are Post-Its — a quick and dirty tool to make sure I didn’t forget an idea — then Music Memos is a sketchbook. This is where I start the songwriting process, and every part of the app is designed to help facilitate the process and, most shockingly of all, guide me to the next step in fleshing the song out. […]

Music Memos has so many other tricks up its sleeves that I almost feel like someone at Apple has been reading my dream journal. An app for recording song ideas that uses a robust tagging system is something I’ve personally wanted to build for a long time, but throw in a guitar tuner, chord and tempo detection, exporting to GarageBand, and magical automatic backing instruments, and the dream becomes borderline pornographic.

I’m not a songwriter, so the app isn’t useful to me personally, but I’m really impressed by the design of this app. It is attractive, well-organized, simple, and thoughtful. And judging by Dave’s take (and Serenity Caldwell’s), it’s genuinely useful and solves a heretofore unsolved problem.

So all is not lost when it comes to Apple putting out high-quality apps.


Apple’s App Problem

Following up on Walt Mossberg’s column regarding the quality of Apple’s first-party apps, Jim Dalrymple writes:

I understand that Apple has a lot of balls in the air, but they have clearly taken their eye off some of them. There is absolutely no doubt that Apple Music is getting better with each update to the app, but what we have now is more of a 1.0 version than what we received last year.

Personally, I don’t care much about all the celebrities that Apple can parade around — I care about a music service that works. That’s it.

If Apple Music (or any of the other software that has problems) was the iPhone, it would never have been released in the state it was.

Software and hardware are profoundly different disciplines, so it’s hard to compare them directly. But it seems obvious to me that Apple, institutionally, has higher standards for hardware design and quality than it does for software.

Maybe this is the natural result of the fact hardware standards must be high, because they can’t issue “hardware updates” over the air like they can with software. But the perception is now widespread that the balance between Apple’s hardware and software quality has shifted in recent years. I see a lot of people nodding their heads in agreement with Mossberg and Dalrymple’s pieces today.

We went over this same ground a year ago in the wake of Marco Arment’s “Apple Has Lost the Functional High Ground”, culminating in a really interesting (to me at least) discussion with Phil Schiller at my “Live From WWDC” episode of The Talk Show. That we’re still talking about it a year later — and that the consensus reaction is one of agreement — suggests that Apple probably does have a software problem, and they definitely have a perception problem.

I’ll offer a small personal anecdote. Overall I’ve had great success with iCloud Photo Library. I’ve got over 18,000 photos and almost 400 videos. And I’ve got a slew of devices — iPhones, iPads, and Macs — all using the same iCloud account. And those photos are available from all those devices. Except, a few weeks ago, I noticed that on my primary Mac, in Photos, at the bottom of the main “Photos” view, where it tells you exactly how many photos and videos you have, it said “Unable to Upload 5 Items”. Restarting didn’t fix it. Waiting didn’t fix it. And clicking on it didn’t do anything — I wanted to know which five items couldn’t be uploaded, and why. It seems to me that anybody in this situation would want to know those two things. But damned if Photos would tell me.

Eventually, I found this support thread which suggested a solution: you can create a Smart Group in Photos using “Unable to upload to iCloud Photo Library” as the matching condition. Bingo: five items showed up. (Two of them were videos for which the original files couldn’t be found; three of them were duplicates of photos that were already in my library.)

My little iCloud Photo Library syncing hiccup was not a huge deal — I was even lucky insofar as the two videos that couldn’t be found were meaningless. And I managed to find a solution. But it feels emblematic of the sort of nagging software problems people are struggling with in Apple’s apps. Not even the bug itself that led to these five items being unable to upload, but rather the fact that Photos knew about the problem but wouldn’t tell me the details I needed to fix it without my resorting to the very much non-obvious trick of creating a Smart Group to identify them. For me at least, “silent failure” is a big part of the problem — almost everything related to the whole discoveryd/mDNSresponder fiasco last year was about things that just silently stopped working.

Maybe we expect too much from Apple’s software. But Apple’s hardware doesn’t have little problems like this. 


Why Apple Assembles in China

Arik Hesseldahl, writing for Recode on Donald Trump’s “we’re gonna get Apple to start building their damn computers and things in this country, instead of in other countries” campaign promise:

Any honest presidential candidate regardless of party should say clearly and indeed proudly that America doesn’t want these jobs to come back. Final assembly jobs are low-skilled, low-paying occupations; no American would wish to support a family on what the jobs would pay. Workers at China’s Foxconn, which manufacturers the iPhone, make about $402 per month after three months of on-the-job probation. Even at the lowest minimum wage in the U.S. — $5.15 an hour in Wyoming — American workers can’t beat that.

It’s not that simple. These jobs are certainly menial, but they’re not low-skill. As Tim Cook said on 60 Minutes:

Charlie Rose: So if it’s not wages, what is it?

Tim Cook: It’s skill. […]

Charlie Rose: They have more skills than American workers? They have more skills than —

Tim Cook: Now — now, hold on.

Charlie Rose: — German workers?

Tim Cook: Yeah, let me — let me — let me clear, China put an enormous focus on manufacturing. In what we would call, you and I would call vocational kind of skills. The U.S., over time, began to stop having as many vocational kind of skills. I mean, you can take every tool and die maker in the United States and probably put them in a room that we’re currently sitting in. In China, you would have to have multiple football fields.

Charlie Rose: Because they’ve taught those skills in their schools?

Tim Cook: It’s because it was a focus of them — it’s a focus of their educational system. And so that is the reality.

Wages are a huge factor, but for the sake of argument, let’s say Apple was willing to dip into its massive cash reserves and pay assembly line workers in the U.S. a good wage. Where would these U.S.-made iPhone be assembled? A year ago Apple sold 75 million iPhones in the fourth quarter of calendar 2014. There is no facility in the U.S. that can do that. There might not be anywhere in the world other than China that can operate at that sort of scale. That’s almost one million iPhones per day. 10 iPhones per second. Think about that.

You can say, well, Apple could dig even deeper into its coffers and build such facilities. And train tens of thousands of employees. But why would they? Part of the marvel of Apple’s operations is that they can assemble and sell an unfathomable number of devices but they’re not on the hook for the assembly plants and facilities. When iPhones go the way of the iPod in 10 or 15 or 20 years, Apple doesn’t have any factories to close or convert for other uses. Foxconn does.

The U.S. can’t compete with China on wages. It can’t compete on the size of the labor force. China has had a decades-long push in its education system to train these workers; the U.S. has not. And the U.S. doesn’t have the facilities or the proximity to the Asian component manufacturers.

The only way Apple could ever switch to U.S. assembly and manufacturing would be if they automated the entire process — to build machines that build the machines. That, in fact, is what NeXT did while they were in the hardware business. But NeXT only ever sold about 50,000 computers total. Apple needed to assemble 35,000 iPhones per hour last year.

So long as assembling these devices remains labor intensive, it has to happen in China. And if someday it becomes automated — if the machines are built by machines — by definition it’s not going to create manufacturing jobs.1 


  1. I do wonder about the purported Apple car. Would that be assembled in China, too? The U.S. does have automobile manufacturing expertise. And a car is so utterly unlike any product Apple has ever made that I feel like anything is possible. ↩︎


The Curious Case of the Curious Case

Joanna Stern tested Apple’s new Smart Battery Case for five days, and likes it a lot:

Let’s get this out of the way: The bar for battery-case design is extremely low. Most are chunky and made of black matte plastic, requiring you to attach two pieces to your phone. You choose a battery case for utility, not fashion.

Apple’s Smart Battery Case, though still fairly unsightly, is ahead of those. Bend back the top and slide in your phone. It feels just like Apple’s smooth, soft-touch wraparound silicone case, except… with a protruding, awkward battery on the back. The battery juts out as if your phone will soon give birth to a rectangular alien.

Still, I’ll take it over all the ugly messes sold by Mophie, Anker and others, especially since it provides better protection for the phone. A lip curves just above the screen to prevent the glass from hitting a hard surface and an interior lining provides better shock absorption than hard plastic. Plus, the grippy material is much easier to hold and doesn’t feel like it will slip from my hands.

The Verge’s Lauren Goode disagrees:

Apple’s smart battery case is fine, then, if you want a softer case or a “passive” battery charging experience, with zero control over or understanding of how the case actually charges your phone. Maybe that’s what Apple is hoping: that buyers of this thing will slip it on and never take it off, charging their iPhones entirely through the case’s Lightning port going forward, forgetting about its big ol’ bump in the back. They will be pleased, finally, with their iPhone 6’s or 6S’s battery life, and the memory of spending an extra $99 for it, rather than having it just work that way in the first place, will eventually fade away.

It’s fine if you don’t want exterior indicator lights, or a even a case that gives you a 0 to 100 percent charge. After all, this one was designed for the iPhone, by the same company that made your iPhone. For some people, that’s a big draw.

In either case this will probably sell like hot cakes. It fits nicely in holiday stockings. ’Tis the season. Just know that from a pure performance and even a design perspective, Apple’s effort is not the best you can get.

(I can almost see her eyes rolling as she typed those italicized words in the second quoted paragraph.)

Lewis Hilsenteger of Unbox Therapy best captured what most of us thought when we first saw it: “These things look weird.”

That was certainly my first impression when I got mine Tuesday morning. The looks-like-it’s-pregnant-with-an-iPod-Touch design is certainly curious. I think to understand why it looks like this we have to ask why it even exists:

  • People who use their phones heavily — power users, if you will — struggle to get through a day on a single charge with the iPhone 6/6S.

  • The Plus models offer so much more battery life that getting through the day on a single charge isn’t a problem, even for power users who are on their phones all day long. But most people don’t want an iPhone that large.

  • Apple has long sold third-party battery cases in its stores, so they know how popular they are.

  • Existing battery cases all suffer from similar design problems, as outlined by Joanna Stern above. They make the entire device look and feel chunky, and most of them are built from materials that don’t feel good. None of them integrate in any way with the software on the iPhone, and most of them use micro USB instead of Lightning for charging the case.

  • Lastly, Apple claims the Smart Battery Case tackles a problem I wasn’t aware existed: that existing battery cases adversely affect cellular reception because they’re putting a battery between the phone’s antenna and the exterior of the case.

So I think Apple’s priorities for the Smart Battery Case were as follows — and the order matters:

  1. Provides effective battery life equivalent to the iPhone 6S Plus.
  2. Feels good in your hand.
  3. Makes it easy and elegant to insert and remove the phone.
  4. Works as a durable protective case.
  5. Prevents the case’s battery from affecting cellular reception.
  6. Looks good.

That “looks good” is last on the list is unusual for an Apple product, to say the least. Looking good isn’t always first on Apple’s list of priorities, but it’s seldom far from the top. But in this case it makes sense: Apple sells great-looking silicone and leather cases for people who aren’t looking for a battery case, and all existing third-party battery cases are clunky in some way.

Ungainly though the case’s hump is, I can’t help but suspect one reason for it might be, counterintuitively, a certain vanity on the part of its designers. Not for the sake of the case itself, but for the iPhone. Third-party “thick from top to bottom” battery cases make it impossible to tell whether the enclosed phone is itself thick or thin. Apple’s Smart Battery Case makes it obvious that it’s a thin iPhone in a case which has a thick battery on the back. And I’ll say this for Apple: they are owning that hump. The hero photo of the case on the packaging is a face-on view of the back of the case.

But I think the main reasons for this design are practical. The battery doesn’t extend to the top in order to accommodate the hinge design for inserting and removing the phone. Why it doesn’t extend to the bottom is a little less obvious. I suspect one reason is that that’s where the “passively coupling antenna” is.1 Extending the battery to cover it would defeat the purpose. Also, there’s a hand feel aspect to it — normally I rest the bottom of my iPhone on my pinky finger. With this case, I can rest the bottom ridge of the hump on my pinky, and it’s kind of nice. I also like putting my index finger atop the hump.

So the Smart Battery Case looks weird. Typical battery cases look fat. Whether you prefer the weird look of the Smart Battery Case to the fat look of a typical case is subjective. Me, I don’t like the way any of them look. But after using the Smart Battery Case for three days, and having previously spent time using the thinnest available cases from Mophie, I feel confident saying Apple’s Smart Battery Case feels better when you’re holding it than any other battery case, both because of the material and its shape. It’s not even a close call. It also feels sturdier — this is the most protective iPhone case Apple has ever made, with rigid reinforced sides and a slightly higher lip rising above the touchscreen. The Smart Battery Case also clearly looks better from your own face-on perspective when using the phone. (Mophie’s cases look better than most, but they emboss an obnoxious “mophie” logotype on the front-facing chin. If Apple doesn’t print anything on the front face of the iPhone, why in the world would a case maker?)

Patents, by the way, are a non-issue regarding the Smart Battery Case’s design. A well-placed little birdie who is perched in a position to know told me that Nilay Patel’s speculation that the unusual design was the byproduct of Apple trying to steer clear of patents held by Mophie (or any other company for that matter) are “absolute nonsense”. This birdie was unequivocal on the matter. Whether you like it, hate it, or are ambivalent about it, this is the battery case Apple wanted to make.

My take is that the Smart Battery Case is an inelegant design, but it is solving a problem for which, to date, no one has created an elegant solution. Apple has simply chosen to make different severe trade-offs than the existing competition. In that sense, it is a very Apple-like product — like the hockey-puck mouse or the iMac G4.

On Capacity, Simplicity, and the Intended Use Case

Most battery cases have an on/off toggle switch, controlling when the case is actually charging the phone. The reason for this is that you can squeeze more from a battery case if you only charge the phone when it’s mostly depleted. Here’s a passage from Mophie’s FAQ page:

When should I turn on my mophie case?

To get the most charge out of your case, turn it on around 10%-20% and keep the case charging without using it until your iPhone hits 80% battery life. From there, you can either wait until it gets low again or top it off when the battery is less than 80%. Apple’s batteries fast-charge to 80%, then switch to trickle charging for the last 20%.

Simplicity is a higher priority for Apple than fiddly control. If a peripheral can get by without an on/off switch, Apple is going to omit the switch. (Exhibit B: Apple Pencil.) The whole point of the Smart Battery Case is that you charge it up and put your iPhone in it and that’s it. Complaining about the lack of an on/off toggle or external charge capacity indicator lights on the Smart Battery Case reminds me of the complaints about the original iPhone omitting the then-ubiquitous green/red hardware buttons for starting and ending phone calls. Sure, there was a purpose to them, but in the end the simplification was worth it. If your iPhone is in the case, it’s charging. That’s it.

Regarding the battery capacity of the case, here’s Lauren Goode, author of the aforelinked review for The Verge, on Twitter:

A quick comparison for you: $99 Apple Battery Case 1877 mAh, $100 Mophie Juice Pack Air 2750 mAh, $50 Incipio Offgrid Express 3000 mAh

Nothing could better encapsulate the wrong way of looking at the Smart Battery Case than this tweet. The intended use of the Smart Battery Case is to allow prolonged, heavy use of an iPhone 6/6S throughout one day. In my testing, and judging by the reviews of others, its 1,877 mAh battery is enough for that. Adding a bigger battery would have just made it even heavier and more ungainly.

And the very name of the Incipio Offgrid Express suggests that it is intended for an entirely different use case: traveling away from power for more than a day.

Which in turn brings me to Tim Cook’s comments to Mashable’s Lance Ulanoff yesterday:

Some also see the introduction of an Apple battery case as an admission that battery life on the iPhone 6 and 6s isn’t all it should be.

Cook, though, said that “if you’re charging your phone every day, you probably don’t need this at all. But if you’re out hiking and you go on overnight trips… it’s kind of nice to have.”

The Smart Battery Case would certainly help with an overnight hiking trip, but I think Cook was off-message here, because that scenario is really not what it was designed for. Big 5,000 mAh (or more) external battery chargers (or the highest capacity, extremely thick battery cases from third parties) are far better suited to that scenario than the Smart Battery Case. But Ulanoff’s preceding paragraph points to the marketing predicament inherent in a first-party Apple battery case: that it implies the built-in battery of the iPhone 6S is insufficient.

The clear lesson is that it’s far better to give a phone more battery life by making the phone itself thicker and including a correspondingly thicker (and thus bigger) internal battery than by using any sort of external battery. After a few days using this case, my thoughts turn not to the Smart Battery Case itself but instead to my personal desire that Apple had made the 6/6S form factor slightly thicker. Not a lot thicker. Just a little — just enough to boost battery life around 15-20 percent or so.2 That wouldn’t completely alleviate the need for external batteries. But it would eliminate a lot of my need — my phone dies only a few times a year, but when it does, it almost invariably happens very late at night.

I emphasized the word “personal” in the preceding paragraph because I realize my needs and desires are not representative of the majority. I think the battery life of the iPhone 6S as-is is sufficient for the vast majority of typical users. I suspect Cook went with the overnight hiking scenario specifically to avoid the implication that the built-in battery is insufficient. But the better explanation is that the built-in battery is insufficient for power users who use their iPhones far more than most people do.

My Advice

If you find yourself short on battery with your iPhone every day (or even most days), and you can’t make an adjustment to, say, put a charging dock on your desk or in your car to give your iPhone’s internal battery a periodic snack, then you should probably bite the bullet and switch to a 6S Plus. However bulky the Plus feels in your pocket and hands, it feels less bulky to me than the iPhone 6S with any battery pack. An iPhone 6S Plus, even with a normal case on it, weighs noticeably less than an iPhone 6S with the Smart Battery Case. If you need the extra battery capacity every day, you might as well get the Plus. (If you actually prefer the bigger Plus to the 4.7-inch devices, you’re in luck — you get the screen size you prefer, and a significantly longer-lasting battery. My advice here is for those who prefer the 4.7-inch size, other considerations aside.)

That doesn’t describe me, however. On a typical day, my iPhone 6S seldom drops below 20 percent by the time I go to sleep. But when I’m traveling, I often need a portable battery of some sort. Cellular coverage can be spotty (which drains the battery), and when I’m away from home, I tend to do more (or even the entirety) of my daily computing on the iPhone. Conferences, in particular, can be dreadful on battery life. At WWDC my iPhone can drop to 50 percent by the time the keynote is over Monday morning.

In recent years, rather than use a battery case, I’ve switched to carrying a portable external battery. My favorite for the past year or so is the $80 Mophie Powerstation Plus 2X. It’s relatively small, packs a 3,000 mAh capacity, and has built-in USB and Lightning cables. At conferences or for work travel, it’s easily stashed in my laptop bag, so my pockets aren’t weighed down at all, and my iPhone isn’t saddled with an unnatural case. If I do need to carry it in my pocket, it’s not too bad. It’s also easier to share with friends or family than a battery case. At night, I just plug the Powerstation into an AC adapter, and my iPhone into the Powerstation, and both devices get charged — no need for a separate charger or any additional cables.

The big advantage to using a battery case instead of an external battery pack is that you can easily keep using your phone while it charges. That’s awkward, at best, while your phone is tethered by a cable to a small brick.

If I were going to go back to using a battery case, there’s no question in my mind that I’d go with Apple’s. The only downside to it compared to Mophie’s (and the others — but I think Mophie is clearly the leader of the pack) is that it looks funny from the back. But to my eyes it doesn’t look that funny, and though third-party cases don’t look weird, they don’t look (or feel) good. In every other way, Apple’s Smart Battery Case wins: it’s all Lightning, so any Lightning peripherals you have will work, and there’s no need to pack a grody micro USB cable; it supplies more than enough additional power to get you through an active day; its unibody design makes it much easier to insert and remove the phone; and it feels much better in hand. 


  1. My understanding of how this “passively assistive antenna” works is that it takes the cellular signal and amplifies it as it passes through the case in a way that makes it easier for the iPhone’s antenna to “hear”. Sort of like the antenna equivalent of cupping your hand around your ear. I have no idea whether this is legit, or some sort of placebo marketing bullshit, but it would be interesting to see someone measure the cellular reception of (a) a naked iPhone 6S, (b) the same iPhone in a, say, Mophie battery case, and (c) the same iPhone in the Smart Battery Case. ↩︎

  2. The iPhone 6 and 6S are actually 0.2mm thinner than their corresponding Plus models. That’s sort of crazy. The difference is barely perceptible, but if anything, the 6 and 6S should be a little thicker, not thinner, than the Plus models. ↩︎︎


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