One of the numerous lamentable aspects of product introductions in the coronavirus era is the lack of any sort of post-keynote hands-on access to the products. Apple’s product photography is nonpareil, but there are some things you need to see in person. Color is one. And for how things feel, well, you obviously need to have whatever it is in hand — or in this case, on wrist.
With this week’s new products, the ones I was most interested in seeing, feeling, and trying in person were: the Graphite stainless steel Series 6 Apple Watch (how dark is it? how polished?), the new Solo Loop and Braided Solo Loop bands (how stretchy are they? how comfortable? better than the regular Sport Bands or just different?), and the new Leather Link strap (how’s it compare to the Leather Loop?).
Apple sent me the following products for review, which arrived early Wednesday morning — without having asked me if I had any specific requests:
The advantage, perhaps, of having boring but very consistent taste is that I’m very easy to predict. While what Apple sent wasn’t an exact match for my personal “what I’m most interested in” list, it was remarkably close, and sending the Milanese Loop instead of the Leather Loop is better for the single biggest question on my mind — evaluating the Graphite stainless steel finish.
But that’s not all. Part of the thing with the Solo Loops is that they’re rather precisely sized — they stretch to take on and off, but they’re meant to fit your wrist in their unstretched state. Going by Apple’s print-and-cut-out DIY sizing PDF, the difference between each size is less than 6.6 mm. According to Apple’s paper tool, I should take a size 7, but I’m closer to an 8 than a 6.
The sent me each of the Solo Loops in two sizes: 7 and 8.
And, indeed, the size 7 fits me perfectly. The size 8 straps fit OK, but they’re loose — not little-kid-wearing-their-dad’s-watch loose, more like someone-who-prefers-a-slightly-wiggly-fit loose.
Whoever on the Apple’s Watch team decided which sizes to send me absolutely nailed it. It’s uncanny. I checked with a few of my fellow hacks and Apple sent them the exact right sizes too. Nobody was asked to measure their wrists, nobody was asked which hole they use in the regular Sport Bands. I can’t get over this. I feel like I just lost $5 to a carnival barker who correctly guessed my age to the exact year, and I want to get back in line to bet another $5 to see if he can guess my weight.
In addition to the wrist-size guessers, I would like to nominate the color-naming team at Apple for a nice bonus this year. They do good work.1
Graphite is an excellent name for this stainless steel finish. It is darker, but it is not nearly black. Describing where Graphite lies on the spectrum compared to the other dark metallic finishes in Apple’s product line really does require words, not photographs. I mean, compare Apple’s product photography for the Space Black Series 6 in stainless steel (only available in Hermès models this year) with Graphite Series 6 in stainless steel. Apple’s photos make them look indistinguishable. For posterity, I’ve saved copies of Apple’s product shots of the Series 6 in Graphite, Space Black Hermès, and Space Black Titanium (which I very much like, but which really ought to be called Space Gray, because it’s definitely not black).
In real life, the difference is very clear. Apple’s photography captures Graphite very accurately, but makes Space Black look much lighter than it actually is, to accentuate its polished surface in comparison to Space Gray aluminum and Space Black titanium. (I don’t have access to a new Series 6 in Space Black, but I do own Space Black Series 3 and Series 0 watches, and Apple’s Space Black is the same across Apple Watches old and new.) Apple’s Space Black DLC finish for stainless steel is truly jet black — it’s the polished glossy black of Darth Vader’s helmet. Graphite is more like a darker shade of silver — it is definitely darker than regular “silver” stainless steel, but just as definitely not black.
Another good comparison is to last year’s Space Gray iPhone 11 Pro, which is also stainless steel, dark gray, and highly polished. My Space Gray iPhone 11 Pro is definitely darker than the new Graphite Apple Watch. To my eyes, Apple’s Space Gray steel (as seen on iPhones) plays as black or near-black, unless you put it against something truly black. Graphite never looks black.
Apple’s dark gray stainless steel finishes, on a spectrum:
Outdoors in daylight, my Space Gray iPhone 11 Pro looks closer to Graphite than to Space Black; indoors at night, it looks closer to Space Black than to Graphite.
I think this is a good change for Apple’s “dark” stainless steel watches. Space Black made more sense with the original Series 0–3 form factor, where the displays were sharp-cornered rectangles and had larger bezels. The Space Black finish effectively blurred the seam between the display sapphire and the steel case, and helped disguise the fact that the displays had awkwardly large bezels. The watch as a whole looked like a shiny black monolithic capsule. With the Series 4 redesign that carries through to this year’s Series 6, that sort of disguising isn’t necessary, because the displays are larger and have round corners. Also, Graphite looks more obviously like polished steel than Space Black — they might well be equally polished and glossy, but because Graphite is lighter-colored it has a mirror-like effect that Space Black doesn’t. It’s more glanceably premium-looking. It’s shiny.
That shininess carries through to the Graphite Milanese Loop, which definitely looks darker than the regular Silver stainless steel Milanese Loop, but just as definitely is not black. Again, Apple’s product photography for Graphite is very true to life to my eyes.
My Space Black Link Bracelet — from my original Apple Watch back in 2015, still in pristine condition thanks to the near-imperviousness of the DLC finish — looks fine with the Graphite Series 6 watch. It’s definitely not an exact color match, but on the wrist, it plays. The mirror-like finish of Graphite stainless steel helps it pick up the color of whatever band you pair it with. (Apple still sells the Link Bracelets, in Silver and Space Black stainless steel, and the Space Black one still costs $100 extra — $450 vs. $350.)
Why do the dark Hermès models still use Space Black instead of Graphite? I think that’s to precisely color-match the existing Space Black hardware of Hermès watch bands. But who knows? It really does seem a bit curious that Apple’s dark stainless steel Series 6 models are only available in Graphite, and Hermès’s dark ones are only available in Space Black.
I know not every Apple Watch owner has a Sport Band, but I assume a general familiarity with it as the canonical, iconic Apple Watch band. Visually, the new Solo Loop looks like the Sport Band on the wrist. But it feels quite different.
For one thing, the Solo Loops are half the weight of the Sport Bands. My regular Sport Bands (42/44mm width, S/M length) all weigh about 25 grams according to my kitchen scale.2 The new rubber Solo Loop weighs only 13 grams and the Braided Solo Loop just 11 grams. (Apple’s velcro Sport Loop bands remain the lightweight kings, at just 9 grams. Personally I’m just not a velcro guy, but I see tons of people wearing these straps.)
In addition to the weight difference, they also feel quite different because they’re more supple. If you hold a Sport Band by the connector and stick it out horizontally, it only droops a little, like a diving board in need of repair. If you hold one of new Solo Loops by the connector, it droops straight down. It seems axiomatic that stretchiness and suppleness go hand-in-hand, but on the wrist you can really feel it, especially comparing the rubber Solo Loop to a regular fluoroelastomer Sport Band. It’s like baby’s-butt-cheek soft and supple.
In terms of getting them on and off the wrist, I’d say they’re both clearly in “just right” range on the Goldilocks scale. If they were stretchier, they might be a bit easier to get on and off, but I think they’d then be too loosey-goosey on the wrist. Once on your wrist, the Solo Loop bands are very secure. And though Apple has a footnote on its Solo Loop web page stating “Band may increase in length over time”, I suspect they’re a little less stretchy than they could be to make them more durable.
Here’s how Apple describes the Braided Solo Loop fabric:
Made from 100 percent recycled materials, the 16,000 polyester yarn filaments in each band are interwoven with thin silicone threads using advanced braiding machinery then laser cut to an exact length. The 300D construction offers a soft, textured feel and is both sweat-resistant and water-resistant.
(“300D” is the type of polyester — thinner and lighter than 600D.) I can’t do better than Apple’s own description: it does feel soft and textured, and it does seem water-resistant for a fabric band. I soaked mine under a faucet, and it’s not magic — it does get wet. But if you’ve ever worn a NATO-style watch strap, or one of Apple’s old Nylon Woven Bands, or one of my personal favorites for mechanical watches, an Erika’s Original MN strap, you know that these sort of nylon/polyester straps dry fairly quickly even after swimming.
I really like both of these straps, and will probably wind up wearing one or the other with my Apple Watch for the foreseeable future. I hope both prove popular enough to become perennial mainstays in Apple’s band lineup.
Have you seen how many named colors there are when you customize watch faces in WatchOS nowadays? It’s arguably too many choices from a user interface perspective, but the names for these colors are just chef’s kiss spot-on. ↩︎
Owen S. Good, reporting for Polygon:
The Trump administration wants to know more about U.S. video game companies’ involvement with China’s Tencent Holdings, whose relationships with American firms includes full ownership of Riot Games, a significant minority stake in Epic Games, and publishing deals with Activision Blizzard.
Bloomberg reported on Thursday that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) sent letters to Epic, Riot, and others to ask about their protocols for securely handling Americans’ personal information.
Tencent is the world’s largest video game vendor, but its U.S. holdings are not limited to just that marketplace. It also has stakes in Reddit, Discord, and Snapchat maker Snap Inc.
Epic Games, Activision, Reddit, Discord, Snap — that’s quite a portfolio of companies that, collectively, consume a lot of attention of younger Americans.
The New York Times:
The exact ownership structure of TikTok under the proposed deal is unclear.
That simple sentence really says it all when it comes to how bananas this whole saga is. This is supposedly a deal that just needs to be signed, not a preliminary discussion, but the “exact ownership structure” remains unclear?
While rushing to secure a deal, TikTok is also hunting for a permanent chief executive to replace Kevin Mayer, who resigned in late August, citing the changing political pressures of the role. Vanessa Pappas, the general manager of TikTok in North America, took over in the interim.
Among those whom TikTok has talked to about the job is Kevin Systrom, a founder and former chief executive of Instagram, people briefed on the matter said. Talks are preliminary, and no final decisions have been made, they said.
Systrom didn’t like working for Mark Zuckerberg, but might agree to work for Larry Ellison. Sure. That doesn’t sound completely made up just to float a plausible name.
Josh Dawsey, reporting for The Washington Post:
Olivia Troye, who worked as homeland security, counterterrorism and coronavirus adviser to Vice President Pence for two years, said that the administration’s response cost lives and that she will vote for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden this fall because of her experience in the Trump White House.
“The president’s rhetoric and his own attacks against people in his administration trying to do the work, as well as the promulgation of false narratives and incorrect information of the virus have made this ongoing response a failure,” she said in an interview.
Trump just can’t catch a break from the zealots in the reality-based community. (It’s worth watching — and sharing — the video, to hear Troye make her case in her own words. Far more damning than reading a summary.)
I wanted to do something different with this iOS 14 review. I’ve already posted in-depth explainers and a technical preview. So, this time, I wanted to focus on opinion. Mine, and my special guest’s — John Gruber of Daring Fireball and The Talk Show fame.
We covered a lot of ground here, but somehow we neglected to talk about the new Back Tap feature in Accessibility — perhaps my favorite new little feature in iOS. (I have it set to simulate “Shake”, which means I can use a double-tap on the back of the iPhone to trigger Undo.)
Peter Kafka returns to the show to discuss the news from Apple’s “Time Flies” event — new Apple Watches, new non-Pro iPads, and particularly the Apple One services bundle.
Chaim Gartenberg, writing for The Verge:
Sony has announced that the PlayStation 5 will cost $499.99 when it launches on November 12th, alongside the $399.99 Digital Edition. Preorders will begin on September 17th at “select retailers.”
The pricing puts Sony squarely up against Microsoft’s next-gen consoles, with the company set to release its entry-level Xbox Series S at $299 and its flagship Xbox Series X for $499 on November 10th.
I got an earful from readers last week when I wrote, regarding the new Xboxes, “it seems crazy to me that folks still want to buy and manage spinning discs”. I know all the reasons why some people prefer discs to downloads. With spinning discs you can sell games you no longer play, buy used discs for less than the price of new, trade discs with friends, etc. Trust me, I get it. When I was in college I had my entire liquid net worth tied up in an extensive CD collection. Also, some people don’t have great bandwidth for today’s massive console games.
So, I apologize, it’s not crazy. But it does seem antiquated. Spinning discs for media is like one step removed from “be kind, rewind” stickers on VHS rental boxes.
Anyway, as for PS5 vs. Xbox Series Whatever, I like Sony’s model where the two versions are separated only by the spinning disc drive. The Xbox Series S gets to come in $100 cheaper than the no-disc PS5, but it feels weird and anti-game-console-ish to me that it’s got a notably weaker GPU than than the Series X. I think I see what Microsoft is going for — they’re trying to make Xbox more of a continuation of PC gaming, where developers target a range of GPUs rather than one very specific performance profile, but I prefer the clarity of the PS5 lineup. You want spinning discs? You pay a $100 penalty (and get a clunkier console to boot). That’s it.
There’s nothing spectacular or game-changing about Apple Watch Series 6, but it’s a perfect example of Apple’s incremental product update strategy. What’s new in Series 6 compared to Series 5?
Technology-wise: the blood oxygen sensor and the S6 chip. The S6 chip’s improved power efficiency, in turn, allows Apple to brighten the always-on display — up to 2.5 times brighter than the S5. The always-on display of Series 5, you will recall, is my favorite Apple Watch new feature ever. (Or, the flip side of the same coin: I despised the not-always-on display of previous Apple Watches.) The thing about rolling out incremental updates every single year is they add up — and people don’t buy new watches every year. Anyone who bought, say, a then-new Series 3 Apple Watch in 2017 would get a really nice upgrade with a new Series 6 now.
Style-wise: The aluminum models have new navy blue and Product Red colors. In the stainless steel line, space black has been replaced by “graphite” — it’s hard to tell how dark graphite is going by Apple’s product photography because their images emphasize its polished surface. I’m going to miss space black stainless steel, which was about as black as black can get — it was clearly the model Darth Vader would wear. But I can see why they went with graphite as the new “dark” stainless steel color: it seems more like a glossy sibling to the matte space black titanium Edition option, which is more like a very dark gray than black. And if that’s not confusing enough, there are a few Space Black stainless steel models in the Hermès Series 6 lineup. The only Series 6 Edition models are in titanium — no ceramic models this year.
The new bands are interesting, as ever. I’m curious to play with the stretchy Solo Loops. (Worth noting: The regular rubbery Solo Loops cost $50; the fabric-y Braided Solo Loops are $100. Getting a new watch with the Braided Solo Loop as the included band thus carries a $50 surcharge.) The Solo Loop bands come in nine sizes for each watch size (sizes 1-9 for 40 mm watches, sizes 4-12 for 44 mm). That sort of precision fit seems like it’s begging for a hands-on retail experience, like trying on shoes, but hands-on retail experiences are not really a thing here in the U.S. at the moment. So, Apple has a PDF sizing guide you can print, cut out, and wrap around your wrist. Looks like I’m a size 7.
The Apple Watch SE is best thought of as a cut-down Series 5 watch. Apple has an excellent comparison page, and it’s pretty clear from that page that the difference between a Series 6 and SE comes down to three things the SE lacks: no always-on display, no ECG sensor, no blood oxygen sensor. Also, adding cellular connectivity to an aluminum Series 6 is a $100 upsell; on the SE adding cellular costs only $50. (The stainless steel and titanium Series 6 models all have cellular included.)
It seems all but certain that next year — if civilization still exists — the Apple Watch SE will move down to the $199 spot in the lineup that remains occupied by the now-kinda-old-looking Series 3 model. Series 3 remaining in the lineup is a bummer for developers, who will need to keep designing WatchOS apps and complications for an entirely different pair of displays for a few years to come. I get why the Series 3 is still there — it’s $80 cheaper than the SE, which is significant percentage-wise. A new Series 3 Apple Watch is “about $200”; a new SE is “about $300”. But it’s really not a fun product at all: the only style choices are silver with a white Sports Band and space gray with a black Sports Band.
The new just-plain “iPad” could almost be called the “iPad SE”. In the same way the new iPhone SE is (I think) the last of the home-button iPhones, this new iPad is (I think) the last of the home-button iPads. It’s nothing exciting technology-wise, but it’s a great device for a starting price of $329.
One obvious question: why does the new iPad still use the old Apple Pencil? Well, because even though it’s a new iPad, it’s an old design. The old Apple Pencil was designed for the home-button iPads, and the new Apple Pencil was designed for the no-home-button “all display” iPads. The new “all display” iPads have flat sides where the new Pencil can magnetically snap into place and pair; the old iPad design has round sides. That, too, is one reason why the new just-plain iPad has a Lightning port, not USB-C — otherwise it couldn’t pair with the old Pencil.
I enjoy that the new iPad Air comes in new colors: blue, green, and pink (in addition to silver and space gray). But what’s most remarkable about the new iPad Air are two technical firsts: it’s the first device with an A14-series SoC and the first Apple device with a Touch ID sensor in the power button.
Surely Apple’s original plan, pre-COVID, was for the iPhones 12 to be introduced at this September event. But they weren’t, so the A14 debuted not in an iPhone but in the iPad Air. It seemed to me Apple didn’t talk much about A14 performance today — perhaps to save some bragging for next month’s iPhone 12 introduction. But that raises the question of when, “next month”, the iPad Air will actually ship. Will it ship before the new iPhones are introduced, spoiling their performance? Or will it ship alongside the first iPhone 12 models, despite being introduced weeks beforehand? Mum’s the word from Apple. My guess: the new iPad Air will begin shipping immediately after next month’s iPhone event, a week or so before the new iPhones will begin shipping. That way the A14 performance details will remain under wraps for the iPhone event, but the iPad Air and iPhone 12 won’t ship at the same time.
Touch ID in the iPad Air’s power button raises the question of whether that might be true for the iPhone 12 as well — not as a replacement for Face ID but as a face-mask-friendly supplement to it. I’m going to guess no. I think this pandemic struck far too late for ubiquitous face-mask-wearing to factor into Apple’s design for the iPhone 12. But it’s interesting to think that the mid-range iPad now has a feature millions of people would rather see in high-end iPhones.
A month ago I speculated thus:
My back-of-the-envelope proposal is that Apple One should cost $15/month for an individual and $20/month for family sharing, and include: Music, TV+, Arcade, and the top tier of iCloud storage. Make News+ a $5/add-on.
Basically: start with Apple Music as the linchpin service in the bundle, charge $5 more than they currently are for Music alone, and include everything Apple owns the entirety of: TV+, Arcade, and iCloud storage. I think they have to charge extra for News+ to pay the participating providers — News+ is more like a bundle unto itself.
That was pretty good speculation if I do say so myself. The actual deal announced today:
Apple is still, in my opinion, nickel-and-diming on iCloud Storage, but the basic pricing is exactly what I hoped for: start with Apple Music’s pricing, add $5/month, and include TV+ and Arcade. It’s a good deal.
If you’re currently an Apple services whale, Apple One will save you significant money compared to the previous a la carte pricing. That sounds rather un-Apple-like — since when does Apple sell things at a lower price than you were previously paying? But Apple’s goal with a services bundle isn’t to get the most money it can from you, individually, but to get the most money it can from all of us, collectively. My ballpark estimate is that only about 20 percent of iPhone owners pay Apple for any subscription services at all. The fact that some of those 20 percent will now save money with the Apple One bundle should be more than offset by getting more people to pay for any monthly services at all. If you’re in the Apple ecosystem and want Apple Music, it’s a no-brainer to pay $5 more to get the Apple One bundle instead.
It’s a simple proposition at a compelling price — exactly what a bundled offering should be.
Worth noting: According to the short FAQ at the bottom of Apple’s web page for Apple One, “You can purchase additional iCloud storage separately to supplement what’s included with your Apple One plan”. This includes, I am reliably informed, being able to purchase an additional 2 TB if the included 2 TB in the Premier tier isn’t enough for your family. (4K video clips add up.)
The show looked and felt a lot like the WWDC keynote: fun, cheerful, with impeccable production values. And with an hour’s worth of material, it ran just about one hour on the button. Also like the WWDC keynote, it was so well-received that a bunch of people are already speculating that this might be how Apple does events henceforth, even after in-person events are possible again. I disagree. There’s a lot of nuance that is missing without a live stage show — but I do think these virtual keynotes might fundamentally change how Apple does smaller product introduction events going forward. Make them a little more suited to a streaming audience, and a little less theatrical. It’s also interesting how much the new Apple Park campus is effectively a character in these virtual keynotes — a role the architecturally bland Infinite Loop campus could not have played, had this pandemic hit a few years ago.
James Batchelor, reporting for GamesIndustry:
Sony has reached out to GamesIndustry.biz with the following statement denying the Bloomberg report:
“While we do not release details related to manufacturing, the information provided by Bloomberg is false,” the statement reads. “We have not changed the production number for PlayStation 5 since the start of mass production.”
This, in response to a report by Takashi Mochizuki and Debby Wu at Bloomberg, claiming:
Sony Corp. has cut its estimated PlayStation 5 production for this fiscal year by 4 million units, down to around 11 million, following production issues with its custom-designed system-on-chip for the new console, according to people familiar with the matter.
Here’s a case where Bloomberg’s status as a known publisher of fabricated bullshit that they refuse to retract hurts them. It’s like when the National Enquirer would run a story every few months, for years, saying Liz Taylor was on her deathbed. Nobody should believe Bloomberg on this — they have zero credibility. Retract “The Big Hack” and we can start having some faith that what they report is true even when disputed by the companies involved in a story. Until then: nope.
I have no idea why Bloomberg reporters haven’t revolted on this issue. Takashi Mochizuki and Debby Wu had nothing to do with “The Big Hack” but now their own work gets treated as fish wrap by dint of institutional association.
Scientific American has never endorsed a presidential candidate in its 175-year history. This year we are compelled to do so. We do not do this lightly.
The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people — because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September. He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges. That is why we urge you to vote for Joe Biden, who is offering fact-based plans to protect our health, our economy and the environment.
Joanna Stern, writing for The Wall Street Journal (News+):
It isn’t always clear when something is ready.
Take my grilling. Sometimes I remove steak well before or after I should’ve. You might say it’s a “tough” call. But there’s nothing tough about stating this: The new two-screen Surface Duo is undercooked.
Microsoft’s new $1,400 book-like phone-tablet thingy is not ready for me and not ready for you.
Unless, of course, you want an Android device that repeatedly ignores your taps on its screens, randomly slows down, struggles to figure out its own up, down and sideways positioning, and abruptly rearranges parts of its own interface. If that is your dream, well, then it is ready.
This is exactly what I thought when they let the first round of YouTuber reviews come out under the condition that they not turn the devices on. The hardware really is well-designed and the concept is both fascinating and original. But if the experience were actually good, you wouldn’t do a round of reviews that forbade talking about the actual experience.
Stern’s video, as usual, is extremely good, too — and she gives a very fair shake to the Duo for what is good and clever about it. But the bugginess of the software really makes clear why it’s better (necessary?) to control the OS when you want to invent a new form factor.
The fact that the camera is subpar is to me a dealbreaker for a $1,400 phone. I can’t shake the feeling that despite the fact that the Surface Duo is itself a phone — not just a folding tablet that can use a SIM card for cellular data — that Microsoft sees this as something one might carry in addition to a dedicated phone (with a better camera).
Also, I saw a couple of TV ads for the Surface Duo yesterday while watching football — Microsoft is marketing this.
Mark Gurman put together a nice rundown of Apple’s executive leadership for Bloomberg last week. I feel like it’s better thought of (and would have been better presented) as a directory, not as a story. A who’s-who guide to Apple’s executive leadership. But Bloomberg demands a story,1 so we get one:
As Cook begins his 10th year at the helm, his management group is filled mostly with senior vice presidents who have worked at Apple for more than two decades, made tens of millions of dollars and are at or near the ages of 55 to 60 when many previous executives have stepped aside. […]
The CEO has given no indication he’s ready to retire, but if the 59-year-old Cook moved on tomorrow, look no further than Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams, 57, to take over.
There’s no question that Williams is second-in-command. Now that Jony Ive is gone, Williams is the only other executive with a C-level title, and his portfolio has grown post-Ive. But because he’s effectively the same age as Cook, I don’t think we should see him as Cook’s heir apparent. If Cook plans to retire at a younger age than Williams,2 or if something unexpected happened to Cook, then yes, Williams may well be Cook’s successor, but those seem like unlikely “ifs” to me.
Most of the names in Gurman’s list could be gleaned just by observing who has gotten significant stage time — and for which products — in recent keynotes. John Ternus for hardware engineering, Kaiann Drance for iPhone product marketing, and Sebastien Marineau-Mes for software engineering, for example. But other people in Gurman’s report have been largely under the radar.
My biggest question and deepest concern regarding Apple’s leadership, especially now that Ive is gone and Phil Schiller has moved on to a fellowship with only the App Store and events on his plate,3 is whose taste is driving product development? We know the actors, we know the writers, we know the cinematographers, but who is directing? Who is saying “This isn’t good enough” — or in the words of Apple’s former director, “This is shit”? When a product decision comes down to this or that, who is making that call?
You can’t direct good movies by committee. You can’t direct good products by committee, either.
I am reminded of the fact that Roger Moore was in fact a few years older than Sean Connery, yet went on to play James Bond more times than anyone else to date. ↩︎
Also curious: Apple’s PR chief Steve Dowling announced he was leaving the company one year ago. In his exit memo, Dowling wrote “Phil will be managing the team on an interim basis starting today.” Apple still hasn’t named a replacement for Dowling, and my understanding is that Schiller is still in charge of PR. Not sure what’s going on there — a year seems like a long time to fill any position — but, this is the same company where Steve Jobs served as “interim” CEO from 1997-2000. At this point I suspect Apple might not name a new head of PR, and that team might permanently report to Greg Joswiak as SVP of marketing. ↩︎︎
Jim VandeHei, writing for Axios:
Every year, China grows bigger and more powerful, most recently seizing control of Hong Kong and trying to buy allies at U.S. expense.
Xi Jinping said this week that China’s progress in fighting the virus, including reopening schools, has “fully demonstrated the clear superiority of Communist Party leadership and our socialist system.” (N.Y. Times)
This is the message Beijing is spreading to other world leaders and their own people, as China seeks to displace America as the great global power.
Vote. Make sure everyone you know is registered and ready to vote.
Sharon LaFraniere, reporting for The New York Times:
“You understand that they’re going to have to kill me, and unfortunately, I think that’s where this is going,” Mr. Caputo, a Trump loyalist installed by the White House in April, told followers in a video he hosted live on his personal Facebook page. […]
Mr. Caputo on Sunday complained on Facebook that he was under siege by the media and said that his physical health was in question and his “mental health has definitely failed.”
“I don’t like being alone in Washington,” he said, describing “shadows on the ceiling in my apartment, there alone, shadows are so long.” He then ran through a series of conspiracy theories, culminating in a prediction that Mr. Trump will win re-election but his Democratic opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., will refuse to concede. “And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin,” he said. “The drills that you’ve seen are nothing.” He added: “If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get.”
It’s plainly clear, not just to us, but to himself, that his mind has snapped. He sounds about half a click short of locking himself into his bedroom with a plan to subsist by drinking his own urine. And yet at this moment he remains a key official in our government response to the pandemic.
Email. It feels like a chore. It’s overwhelming, it’s messy, it’s relentless. It’s necessary, but hopelessly broken.
That’s why we fixed it.
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Microsoft’s entire statement:
ByteDance let us know today they would not be selling TikTok’s US operations to Microsoft. We are confident our proposal would have been good for TikTok’s users, while protecting national security interests. To do this, we would have made significant changes to ensure the service met the highest standards for security, privacy, online safety, and combatting disinformation, and we made these principles clear in our August statement. We look forward to seeing how the service evolves in these important areas.
Translation: “We’re embarrassed that we had anything to do with this circus.”
Microsoft should’ve known better as soon as Trump started talking about “key money” payola to the U.S. Treasury, but they went into this acquisition bid treating it like serious business. But it’s not serious business — the whole thing has been banana republic nonsense from the beginning and the banana-y-ness has escalated each step of the way.
Now you’ve got China saying that a U.S. company can buy “TikTok” but can’t buy their suggestion algorithm. That algorithm is TikTok — and it seems clear that’s why Microsoft is washing its hands of the whole thing.
ByteDance, the Beijing-based parent company of TikTok, will not sell or transfer the algorithm behind the popular video-sharing app in any sale or divestment deal, according to a source briefed on the Chinese company’s boardroom discussions.
With a looming US deadline for ByteDance to sell TikTok’s US operations, the source said: “The car can be sold, but not the engine.”
It’s not merely buying a car without its engine — it’s buying an engine-less car whose most interesting attribute was the engine. Who the hell would buy that car? Larry Ellison, I guess.
Cara Lombardo and Maureen Farrell, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+):
SoftBank Group Corp. is nearing a deal to sell British chip designer Arm Holdings to Nvidia Corp. for more than $40 billion, according to people familiar with the matter, the latest in a series of big asset sales by the Japanese technology conglomerate. […]
A sale to Nvidia could prompt scrutiny from antitrust regulators and potentially pushback from Arm’s customers, which include major chip makers and electronics manufacturers such as Intel Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. and Apple Inc.
I’m not saying Apple wouldn’t object — I don’t know — but Apple isn’t a customer of Arm in the way this suggests. Apple’s chips do use the ARM64 instruction set, but I believe Apple already has a perpetual license for that. Apple does not license chips or chip designs from Arm — Apple’s chips are its own designs, which is why they offer performance unlike those of any other Arm licensee. This too is why Apple wasn’t interested in itself acquiring Arm Holdings: Arm’s business is about licensing technology to other companies; Apple’s business is about keeping its technology for itself.
Then-future president of the United States, Donald Trump, commemorating 9/11 back in 2013:
I would like to extend my best wishes to all, even the haters and losers, on this special date, September 11th.
That’s really one for the books.
Anita Gates, writing for The New York Times:
But again it was for something of an action role that she received the greatest attention, when she played a crime boss’s daughter in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), the only James Bond film to star George Lazenby. Her character had the distinction among Agent 007’s movie love interests of actually marrying Bond, but she was killed off in the final scene, for the sake of future plot lines.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is, I think almost inarguably, the most polarizing of Bond films. Personally, I despise it — I think it’s poorly written, terribly directed, and that Lazenby was wrong for the role — the only actor ever truly miscast as Bond. But: some Bond fans love it. I know several who consider it their favorite, or, at least, their favorite of that era.
One reason for that — perhaps the reason — was Rigg. Her presence in the film is simply electric.
Megan Graham, writing for CNBC:
Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri said the company will make a case against the planned change to Apple’s iPhone operating system that would impact how it and other mobile advertisers track users. But, he said, “I don’t think we have much influence over Apple,” and pointed to the power Apple has as the sole gatekeeper for apps across about 1 billion of its devices in use today.
This is true — Apple is the sole gatekeeper for apps on iOS, and Apple does claim there are a billion iOS devices in use. But Facebook has 2.5 billion users and Instagram 1 billion — and they’re the sole gatekeepers of their own massive platforms. They’re not getting bullied by a larger company.
On CNBC’s “Squawk Box” Friday morning, Mosseri said Instagram’s advertising business requires certain data to show users relevant ads and to provide value for its advertisers, the majority of which are small and medium-sized businesses.
“If the ecosystem changes in a way that advertisers can’t really measure their return on investment, that’s really going to be, yes, somewhat problematic for our business, but it’s going to be problematic for all the big ad platforms roughly equally, so I’m not that worried about it over the long run,” he said. “It’s going to be much much more problematic for all the small businesses. There are millions of them out there that rely on us to target customers and to reach those customers. Particularly during a pandemic when they’re hurting.”
This is Facebook’s political/PR strategy on this issue: (1) to ask everyone to ignore the plain truth that Apple’s changes to IDFA tracking are for exactly the reason Apple states: to give users control over their own privacy; and (2) to claim that Apple’s actions aren’t hurting Facebook but instead are hurting “small businesses”. Small businesses are taking advantage of privacy invasive user-tracking ad placement, but if their ads are less effective without privacy invasive user-tracking, then so be it, they’re less effective. The idea that we don’t dare do anything good for privacy that might reduce the efficacy of user-tracking ads because “pity the poor small businesses” is sophistry.
And give me a fucking break with bringing the pandemic into this. It’s especially infuriating coming from Facebook, of all companies. Maybe if they weren’t the main vector for the disinformation and anti-science nonsense that has prolonged the pandemic by turning it into a needless culture war, their “concern” would ring more true.
He argued that Instagram wants its users to have control over their data and understand what data it has.
“We believe that there’s a way to be really responsible and give people control over their data and transparency into their data but without cutting off our understanding and therefore operating blind,” he said.
That’s exactly what Apple is doing — giving users awareness over what is going on, and control over it. What Mosseri is really asking for here is the opposite — for Apple to allow the user-tracking ad industry to continue operating in the dark. Like I wrote last week, the entitlement of every single bastard in this industry is just off the charts. They really believe they have a right to track everything we do, and that Apple is taking something that belongs to them away.
Ian Bogost, writing for The Atlantic:
But as people tried to capture the scene, and the confusion and horror that accompanied it, many noticed a strange phenomenon: Certain photographs and videos of the surreal, orange sky seemed to wash it out, as if to erase the danger. “I didn’t filter these,” tweeted the journalist Sarah Frier, posting photos she took of San Francisco’s haunting morning sky. “In fact the iPhone color corrected the sky to make it look less scary. Imagine more orange.” The photos looked vaguely marigold in hue, but not too different from a misty sunrise in a city prone to fog. In some cases, the scene seemed to revert to a neutral gray, as if the smartphones that captured the pictures were engaged in a conspiracy to silence this latest cataclysm.
The reality is both less and more unnerving. The un-oranged images were caused by one of the most basic features of digital cameras, their ability to infer what color is in an image based on the lighting conditions in which it is taken. Like the people looking up at it, the software never expected the sky to be bathed in orange. It’s a reminder that even as cameras have become a way to document every aspect of our lives, they aren’t windows on the world, but simply machines that turn views of that world into images.
This is not a bug, but a side effect of the built-in Camera app on iOS (and likewise on most Android phones) being decidedly consumer-focused. Setting a manual white balance point is a feature in any “pro” camera app worth its salt. My favorite for iPhone is Halide — a recommendation shared by many others. From Halide’s Twitter:
We saw a lot of attention yesterday as people used Halide to take photos of the eerie orange skies in places hit by wildfires.
We got significantly higher downloads.
It feels wrong to benefit from this, so we are donating yesterday’s sales to our local Wildfire Relief Fund.
What a move.
Easter eggs. Remember Easter eggs? These guys sure do.
Emily Atkin, writing for Heated:
This long weekend was literal hell for millions in the American West. California, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, and Washington are suffering from dangerous heat, wildfire and smoke unlike anything they’ve ever seen. […]
Every American should be aware of these basic scientific facts when reading about the devastation of this weekend’s record-breaking extreme weather. But most of the major newspaper stories about the Labor Day Weekend from Hell don’t contain any climate-related information. Why? […]
The repeated and prolonged failure of mainstream news outlets to include basic climate science facts in extreme weather coverage is an abdication of their core responsibility: to give citizens the information they need to make informed decisions about how to solve society’s biggest problems.
The U.S. response to COVID-19 has been a year-long microcosm of the decades-long U.S. response to climate change: our political system is crippled by a faction that refuses to acknowledge scientific evidence or respect expertise. They don’t believe inconvenient truths they can’t see with their own eyes. (Many of them refuse to believe inconvenient truths, no matter what.)
With these red-skied hellscapes across the West, it’s here for everyone to see, making it more important than ever to hammer home the point that this is climate change and it’s devastating.
All day yesterday, my social media feeds were full of photos taken of the skies on the west coast, bloodied red and orange from the wildfires raging in California, Oregon, and other western states. Each fresh photo I saw shocked me anew. Friends told me: as weird as the photos look, they don’t do justice to what this actually looks like and feels like in real life. Automatic cameras (as on smartphones) had a tough time capturing the skies because the onboard software kept correcting the red and orange colors out — the phones know, even if climate change denying politicians and voters don’t, that our skies aren’t supposed to be that color.
So many startling photos, but man, the one Kottke leads with, the one with the UPS truck — that looks like the poster for a terrifying movie.
Tom Warren, writing for The Verge (emphasis mine):
The new Xbox Series S is surprisingly small, both in terms of its $299 price and its dimensions. I’ve been playing around with a nonfunctional Xbox Series S this week, and I’m genuinely surprised Microsoft has managed to fit the same Xbox Series X CPU and lots of other next-gen technology into something that uses space and wealth so economically.
First the Surface Duo “don’t turn it on” reviews, now this. What a weird trend.
David M. Schell:
But a lot of the stories I’ve seen about child sex trafficking haven’t included any kind of call to action. No “share this number,” no “put a sign in your yard” or “don’t be a pedophile,” “seven steps to protect your kids from getting trafficked,” or even “donate to this fund to fight pedophilia.” It’s just “here’s another story about pedophiles engaging in sex trafficking. Isn’t it awful?!”
So when I saw the 30,000-pedophiles article, which to my memory came without any call to action, just a “can you believe this!” kind of comment (I don’t remember the actual comment), I just thought … what’s up with this? […]
To understand it, you have to first understand the difference between conservatives and progressives.
This piece is so keenly observed, so thoughtful, and so obviously true. And Schell’s insight was sparked by a line of dialogue from Footloose.
Update: Fireballed! This hasn’t happened in a while, but Google has it cached.
It surprises me how often Apple own-goals itself with metadata like this. Remember when all the new iPhone names were revealed in the XML of apple.com’s sitemap file two years ago?
I got a press release about this Safe Spacer product today. It’s a wrist device meant to help keep employees at a business from getting too close to each other under coronavirus safety measures. What caught my eye is the design of the band — it’s exactly like an Apple Watch sport band. Just look at it.
Here’s what I wrote about this design two years ago, in my review of the Series 4 watches:
Every other aspect of Apple Watch other than the case is, in fact, world-class nice. The default watch strap, the Sport Band, is absolutely wonderful. Jony Ive’s close friend Marc Newson is renowned in the watch world. Ive brought Newson to Apple to make an even better version of his 1996 Ikepod strap. You know what’s not nice about most watch straps? The extra bit of strap that sticks out after you buckle it. Newson’s insight, that it could be neatly tucked under the other side of the strap, is simply genius. Tens of millions of Apple Watch owners now enjoy this design. And that’s just the default strap — Apple Watch’s well-liquor straps are far better-designed than the top-shelf-liquor straps from many luxury watchmakers.
This design is so clever and, once seen and experienced, so seemingly obvious. And yet it wasn’t obvious, until Marc Newson designed it and Apple popularized it. Makes me wonder how many other obvious good designs remain undiscovered.
SF drone footage during the #BayAreaFires on 9/9/20, set to Blade Runner 2049 music.
Not to mix up my classic sci-fi franchises, but if you can’t believe this, that is why we’ve failed.
Todd Spangler, reporting for Variety:
Tim Connolly, formerly a senior executive at Quibi and Hulu in charge of partnerships at each of those companies, has joined Apple’s video group.
Connolly’s hire by the tech giant was first reported by the Telegraph, which cited an update to his LinkedIn profile that says he recently joined the Apple “video business” based in L.A.
“Formerly a senior executive at Quibi”? Quibi only launched on April 6. That could be a good sign — perhaps Connolly saw the shitshow coming and got out as soon as he could.
The basic story behind this book is so beautiful, so perfectly Trumpian:
Woodward writes his first Trump book and never gets to speak to Trump. Book comes out and makes Trump look bad. Trump is furious that his staff didn’t hook him up with Woodward because he thinks if Woodward had interviewed him, he’d have charmed Woodward and looked better in the book. So, next book, Trump’s staff listens to the boss and Woodward gets 18 interviews with Trump. 18! Woodward, famously, records all of his interviews for all of his books. Trump, of course, said all sorts of damning stuff to Woodward because he’s an idiot.
Sascha Segan, writing for PCMag:
We admit it, we bought into the 5G hype. Carriers, phone makers, and chip makers alike have all been selling 5G as faster and more powerful than 4G, with lower latency. So I was shocked to see that our AT&T 5G results, especially, were slower than 4G results on the same network.
This is a crisis for marketing, not for performance. All three US carriers showed significantly higher download speeds and better broadband reliability than they did in our 2019 tests. It’s just that these gains, particularly on AT&T, are largely because of improvements in 4G, not 5G networks.
The “funny” thing about this for AT&T is that their bullshit “5G-E” network, which isn’t actually 5G, is faster than their actual 5G network.
I have no idea why anyone is excited about 5G. None of my complaints about cellular networking in recent years have been about how fast it is when I have a strong signal.
Also from David Frum — what it’s like crossing back into the U.S. after spending July and August in Canada:
It was an apt introduction to the transition between the United States and Canada. On one side of the border, almost everybody took the virus seriously — and few people had it. On the other, the reverse.
David Frum, writing for The Atlantic:
One of the most striking things about Trump is how seldom, if ever, anybody tells a story of kindness and compassion about him. Not even his own children have much to say. […] Few former employees of the Trump administration praise him as a boss. Few business partners speak of his honesty. Few tenants of Trump buildings have anything good to say about the homes he supposedly built. Few officials of any city have been willing to celebrate any contribution to urban life. Few beneficiaries of any Trump philanthropy.
Imagine a man who has lived in the public eye for half a century, supposedly one of the country’s leading business figures, and when in trouble he struggles to summon credible or trustworthy witnesses from outside the Fox Cinematic Universe. There’s just a gaping zero where goodness should be.
One of the bottom lines about Trump is that he’s not a good person. He’s not trustworthy, he’s not honest, he’s not compassionate. 40 percent of the electorate still look at him and say “He’s my guy”, but to do so, they have to grapple with the fact that he’s a turd of a human being.
They should use the slogan “Come on in and get it.”
Jez Corden and Zac Bowden, reporting for Windows Central:
We can confirm via our sources that the entry-level Xbox Series S will cost $299 at retail, with a $25 per month Xbox All Access financing option, which Microsoft is planning to push hard via various retailers and a large global rollout. The more powerful Xbox Series X will cost $499, with a $35 per month Xbox All Access financing option.
Both consoles will launch on November 10, 2020.
The Series S looks cool, and offers an “all-digital gaming experience”, which is their way of pitching “no spinning disc drive” as a feature. (As it should be — it seems crazy to me that folks still want to buy and manage spinning discs.) I think the Series X looks good too — both of them look very true to the Xbox brand — but the Series S looks downright Dieter Rams-ian.
For comparison, Apple TV 4K currently sells for $179/$199 for 32/64 GB configurations. Apple ought to have something up their sleeve here — either major new Apple TV hardware or a price cut for existing models (or both) — or they’re about to get pantsed in the market for high-end home entertainment boxes.
Update: A friend kindly suggests that Apple TV 4K already has been pantsed by Microsoft, with the $249 Xbox One S that was discontinued last month — it offered 4K streaming video and HD Xbox games.
Seems like a nice update that almost no one is talking about because almost no phones are getting it.
Update: Here’s Google’s own official announcement and rundown of feature highlights. Just me or is their UI for smart home stuff a shameless ripoff of Apple’s Home app? What’s crazy to me about that is that Apple’s Home app isn’t even a great UI to steal.
If you go to Apple’s special events page using an iPhone or iPad, you can tap the event logo and get an AR toy to play with. You can’t say it’s useful, but it’s a fun way to give everyone a virtual tchotchke to play with.
As for the event, if this were a normal year, it would likely be held tomorrow (not today, because yesterday was Labor Day here in the U.S.), and would be headlined by this year’s new iPhones. This is not a normal year, of course, and among the abnormalities is that all of the new iPhones are delayed “a few weeks”.
So Apple has some product announcements ready now (Apple Watch Series 6, for sure, and updated iPad Airs seem likely), and iPhones ready later. Options on the table for Apple:
Apple has obviously chosen option 3. I’m in the camp who believes there often aren’t any noteworthy clues in the logos or event names for Apple events, but you don’t have to be a genius to guess that “Time Flies” implies that Apple Watch is the headliner at next week’s event, which, in turn, means that there will be no iPhones announced.
Apple doesn’t like saying in advance what will be announced at an event, but they do like setting accurate expectations for what won’t be announced. If there are no new iPhones being announced next week, they want everyone not to expect them. They want the products that are being announced to get attention, not products that aren’t being announced.
So, setting expectations:
John Paczkowski: “Sept. 15. Don’t hold your breath for the new iPhone.”
Mark Gurman: “I am told Apple won’t announce the iPhone until October. This is for the iPad and Apple Watch in all likelihood.”
And again, my take: For god’s sake the event is named “Time Flies”.
Early Twitter skepticism about an event centered solely around new mid-range iPads and Series 6 watches seems based on skepticism that Apple can hold a two-hour event just for those two products, which is a silly way of thinking about it. If they only have an hour of story to tell about the new products, the event will last only an hour. There’s an upper limit of just over two hours on event duration, but there’s no lower limit. Apple is keenly aware their special events garner outsized attention largely because they seldom waste our time with them. And it feels natural for virtual events to be shorter than in-person ones — the WWDC keynote was shorter than usual, even though it contained more information than most years.
In addition to whatever new hardware products they’re announcing, Apple also needs to announce release dates for its new iOS releases — new watches and iPads will require WatchOS 7, iOS 14, and iPadOS 14.1 So I’d guess at a schedule like this:
But other than the event, those are all just guesses based on years past, and 2020 isn’t like any year past.
Apple has a bunch of OSes now, but really only two main ones: MacOS and iOS. WatchOS and tvOS are close cousins of iOS, and iPadOS is really just iOS with a different name to denote iPad-specific features. It’s the various iOS flavors — for iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Apple TV — that all sort of need to come out at the same time. For example, you can’t update your watch to the new version of WatchOS until after you’ve updated your paired iPhone to the corresponding new version of iOS. So iOS 14 for iPhones must arrive before Series 6 Apple Watches ship, even if new iPhone models aren’t shipping for another month. (I would guess that iPhone 12 models will all ship with iOS 14.1.)
Mac OS 11 Big Sur, though, can ship later. And judging by the state of the current betas, it should ship later. It’s still really rough. Last year MacOS 10.15 Catalina shipped on October 7 — still in rough shape, quality-wise — several weeks after the new versions of iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, and WatchOS. If I had a say in the matter, I’d hold Big Sur until November. But no matter when it ships, I wouldn’t expect Big Sur alongside the various iOS releases this month. I’d guess October at the earliest. ↩︎
Bryan Irace, on Twitter:
This recent @instagram change — replacing photos that you’ve already seen from those that you follow with misc. algorithmic trash — is so user-hostile that numerous family members who never think twice about software UX have independently asked me what happened to their apps.
One didn’t even notice the “View Older Posts” button, despite it being front and center. Just that photos of e.g. his grandkids were overnight replaced with nonsense.
There’s an apt slogan for the service Instagram has devolved into under Facebook’s steady hand: “Photos of your friends and loved ones, replaced with nonsense. Welcome to Instagram.”
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Jobs and G.D.P., by contrast, sort of are the economy. But they aren’t the economy’s point. What some economists and many politicians often forget is that economics isn’t fundamentally about data, it’s about people. I like data as much as, or probably more than, the next guy. But an economy’s success should be judged not by impersonal statistics, but by whether people’s lives are getting better.
And the simple fact is that over the past few weeks the lives of many Americans have gotten much worse.
Two weeks ago, the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee released Volume 5 of its report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Page 274 describes a night on the town in Las Vegas in 2013:
The dinner that night ultimately included members of the Agalarov family, Trump Organization, Miss Universe Organization, and a number of Emin Agalarov’s friends. Michael Cohen attended with Trump and [Keith] Schiller. During the meal, Goldstone recalled being approached by Schiller, who asked Goldstone if the Agalarov group had plans after the meal. Goldstone recalled telling Schiller that one of Emin Agalarov’s associates, Murtaza Akbar, was an investor in a club called The Act and that the group planned to go. According to Goldstone, Schiller responded by telling Goldstone that “Mr. Trump wants to come.”
Following dinner, the group, which included the Agalarovs, their associates, and the Trump Organization group, went to The Act. Goldstone described The Act as, “a bit Cirque du Soleil and a bit burlesquey thrown into one.” Cohen recalled that the club was “more than a burlesque club” and was a “wild place.”1823
Footnote 1823 contains this testimony from Cohen to the committee, further describing the club:
“It’s a club that puts on shows, and you never really know what the show is going to be. In this specific case they brought out a young man who was in a leotard body suit, who, to me, I would diagnose him as a thalidomide baby. And he was blind as well, but he sang like Pavarotti. And while he was singing — I forget the song, it was like a ‘God Bless America’-type song — there was a woman who was in a thong bikini, who was large, performing sex acts on him while he was singing. Interesting, because I was with Mr. Trump at the time. It was not really a place I expected to be with him at. He looked over to me when he was finished, and I’ll never forget this, he looked me right in the face. He goes, ‘That’s a tough way to make a living.’”
There’s a common belief that Twitter accounts with usernames like @jsmith12345678 must be bots, or trolls, or otherwise nefarious actors.
The thing is, since at least as far back as December 2017, the Twitter signup process has not allowed you to choose your own username! It instead gives you a name based on your first and last name, plus eight numbers on the end. You aren’t prompted to pick a more distinctive username after that, and you can change it but you need to figure out how to do it yourself. (The December 2017 date was confirmed to me privately by someone who works at Twitter Design.)
This means that when you see a reply from someone with a username with a bunch of numbers in it, it’s actually pretty likely that the user is simply someone who joined Twitter after December 2017 and either doesn’t care to change their username, or doesn’t know that they can change it, or doesn’t know how to change it. In other words, it’s probably a user who isn’t very technically savvy.
I learned this a few months ago when I created the @ditheringfm Twitter account. You can still pick your own (available) username on Twitter, but you have to change it in your account settings after starting with a dumb-looking handle you never chose.
Drusilla Moorhouse and Emerson Malone, writing for BuzzFeed News:
The editors at BuzzFeed News have become uneasy about using conspiracy theory to describe QAnon, which has grown to encompass a whole alternative world of beliefs and signals. The copydesk has to stay on top of language and note when terms become stale and reductive; QAnon has shifted, and so should how we write about it.
QAnon is a collective delusion, and that’s what BuzzFeed News will be calling it from now on.
I’m not sure how much traction this term will get, but I like it. “Conspiracy theory” gets an unfair rap in that most people use it to describe wacko beliefs that are not true. But there are actual conspiracies, and there are possible conspiracies which could be true. QAnon is up there with believing the Earth is flat or the moon landings were faked — batshit crazy nonsense.
This new ad from Apple touting iPhone privacy protection is good, and genuinely funny. But what makes it funny — the premise is a series of people loudly sharing in the real world the sort of information that gets unknowingly tracked online — is actually the perfect analogy to help explain how the tracking industry — what ought to be considered the privacy theft industry — has grown into existence.
Consider the new ad-tracking privacy protection feature in iOS 14. The tracking industry, led by Facebook, is up in arms about it — apparently such that Apple might delay enforcing it for a few more months, according to this report today by Alex Heath for The Information (paywalled, alas — here’s MacRumors’s summary). Heath’s report closes thus:
Branch CEO Alex Austin, whose company specializes in measuring the effectiveness of ads in mobile apps, called Apple’s proposed change to IDFA “unworkable for the app ecosystem.”
“Apple’s move has gone too far, disproportionately disrupting a vibrant app ecosystem by throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” he told The Information.
The entitlement of these fuckers is just off the charts. They have zero right, none, to the tracking they’ve been getting away with. We, as a society, have implicitly accepted it because we never really noticed it. You, the user, have no way of seeing it happen. Our brains are naturally attuned to detect and viscerally reject, with outrage and alarm, real-world intrusions into our privacy. Real-world marketers could never get away with tracking us like online marketers do.
Imagine if you were out shopping, went into a drug store, examined a few bottles of sunscreen, but left the store without purchasing anything. And then immediately a stranger approached you with an offer for sunscreen. Such an encounter would trigger a fight or flight reaction — the needle on your innate creepometer would shoot right into the red. (Not to mention that if real-world tracking were like online tracking, you’d get the same creepy offer to buy sunscreen even if you just bought some. Tracking-based offers are both creepy, and, at times, annoyingly stupid.)
Or imagine if you found out that public billboards were taking photos of people who glance at them, logging those photos to a database, and using facial recognition to match them with photos taken at point-of-sale terminals in retail stores. That way, if, say, you were photographed looking at an ad for a soft drink, and later — hours, days, weeks — purchased that same soft drink, the billboard advertisement you glanced at hours, days, or weeks before could get “credit” for your purchase.
We wouldn’t tolerate it. But that’s basically how online ad tracking works.
The tracking industry is correct that iOS 14 users are going to overwhelmingly deny permission to track them. That’s not because Apple’s permission dialog is unnecessarily scaring them — it’s because Apple’s permission dialog is accurately explaining what is going on in plain language, and it is repulsive. Apple’s tracking permission dialog is something no sane person would agree to because this sort of tracking is something no sane person would agree to.
Just because there is now a multi-billion-dollar industry based on the abject betrayal of our privacy doesn’t mean the sociopaths who built it have any right whatsoever to continue getting away with it. They talk in circles but their argument boils down to entitlement: they think our privacy is theirs for the taking because they’ve been getting away with taking it without our knowledge, and it is valuable. No action Apple can take against the tracking industry is too strong.
David E. Sanger and Julian E. Barnes, reporting for The New York Times last week:
TikTok has long presented a parenting problem, as millions of Americans raising preteens and teenagers distracted by its viral videos can attest. But when the C.I.A. was asked recently to assess whether it was also a national security problem, the answer that came back was highly equivocal.
Yes, the agency’s analysts told the White House, it is possible that the Chinese intelligence authorities could intercept data or use the app to bore into smartphones. But there is no evidence they have done so, despite the calls from President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to neutralize a threat from the app’s presence on millions of American devices.
The fact that TikTok is owned and controlled by a Chinese company is reason enough to be suspicious, and in my opinion reason enough to ban the service. But there is no evidence to date that TikTok is a security threat in the sense that their app might be doing anything secretly nefarious on our phones. We should be concerned just by what TikTok is doing on the surface, what we see and know TikTok does — its potential as a propaganda arm of the PRC.
In terms of intercepting data it shouldn’t have access to, there’s no sign TikTok has ever done so and there’s no reason to think they could even if they wanted to. All iOS and Google Play Android apps are installed in sandboxes — no app, TikTok or otherwise, has access to data outside its sandbox. Sandbox is arguably a poorly-chosen word from a layperson’s perspective. It’s nothing like a real-world playground where kids can, if unsupervised, freely move from one sandbox to another (or throw sand outside their own sandbox). An application sandbox is like a virtual world unto itself. They’re implemented technically, not through voluntary compliance. They are technical containers that limit what an app can see and do, not a list of guidelines of what an app should see and do. An app doing something outside its sandbox — without explicit permission from the platform via an entitlement — is exploiting a security vulnerability, not merely breaking the rules.
Obviously it’s possible that TikTok could be exploiting vulnerabilities in iOS and/or Android to access data they shouldn’t be able to, but there’s never been any suggestion that they are. And if they were, it would be huge news, an enormous scandal both for TikTok and the platform vendor (Apple or Google). Why risk it? TikTok is already sitting on a veritable golden goose, collecting information about what sorts of videos hundreds of millions of users around the world enjoy watching, and controlling the secret black-box algorithm that determines what new videos those hundreds of millions of people see each time they open TikTok and swipe up. Even if TikTok’s intentions are truly evil, they’d be fools to risk what they have by exploiting security bugs to, say, try to read emails or texts or whatever people are spooked they’re doing.
Being spooked that TikTok is secretly stealing your emails is like being spooked that the ATMs in a casino are stealing your bank account PIN code. Why in the world would a casino run a crooked ATM when you’re using the ATM to take out money to lose to them in slot machines? It’s theoretically possible but makes little sense.
But what about stories like the Biden campaign banning TikTok from staffers’ phones? Or Amazon’s internal IT department sending out a company-wide blast declaring that TikTok must be removed from any device that accesses company email, only to issue a “never mind” retraction hours later? People see these stories and assume TikTok must be doing something nefarious. But I very much suspect that the stories themselves are driven by the general hysteria around TikTok being up to no good.
Organizations like the Biden campaign and Amazon’s IT department are banning TikTok not because they know something is fishy about it but as a sort of “cover your ass just in case” thing. Given what happened to the Clinton campaign’s email in 2016, you can’t blame the Biden campaign for being overly cautious, if not downright paranoid. I recommend paranoia for them. But I think the reason Amazon so quickly reverted its ban on TikTok was because the initial ban was based on nothing more than hearsay.
Consider Apple and Google. Both companies have an inordinate amount of intellectual property to protect. Both companies are surely deeply concerned about the Chinese government, in particular, attempting to infiltrate their systems. Both companies also have consumer brand reputations to protect with the App Store and Play Store. If either company had any actual reason to suspect TikTok of malfeasance, they’d remove TikTok from their app stores. Surely, the security experts at both companies have examined TikTok with more attention than most apps get.
And even if they couldn’t prove anything, they’d surely be among the very first companies to ban the TikTok app from employee devices if there were any reason to suspect they should. But they haven’t. Apple and Google employees are free to swipe swipe swipe in TikTok to their hearts’ content on the same devices they use for work communication.
We should be concerned about TikTok only because of what we know they have access to: TikTok users’ attention and their interests. There’s no evidence that TikTok has access to anything else on our phones that they shouldn’t.