Daring Fireball

By John Gruber

California Supreme Court Rules Against Apple Regarding Off-the-Clock Employee Bag Searches

Juli Clover, writing for MacRumors last week:

Apple broke California law when it failed to pay employees for time spent waiting for mandatory bag searches at the end of their shifts, the California Supreme Court ruled today. […]

Apple requires all personal packages, bags, and Apple devices that belong to retail employees to be checked by a manager or security before an employee is allowed to leave the store for any reason, including breaks, lunch, and the end of shifts.

Employees are also required to clock out before submitting to an exit search, and have estimated that the time spent waiting and undergoing searches ranges from five to 20 minutes. On busy days, some employees have waited for up to 45 minutes waiting for a bag check.

Apple has argued that allowing employees to bring bags and devices to work is a convenience and has positioned the searches as a “benefit” because employees could prevent searches by not bringing personal items or could be banned from bringing personal items all together. The California Supreme Court says that such a ban would be “draconian” and that Apple’s arguments that employee iPhones are a convenience are “at odds” with how the iPhone is described in marketing materials.

This whole thing is an embarrassment for the richest company in the world. I can see how it happened in the first place, but once it got to court, Apple should have recognized that the policy was flatly wrong and settled it by fully paying wages for time spent in these checks to retail employees worldwide. No matter the employer, if part of your job requires time spent in a security check, you deserve to be compensated for that time.

But for Apple in particular, this is absurd. First, Apple Retail stores are, square foot for square foot, the most profitable stores in the world. That would still be true if they paid employees for the time spent in these security checks. Second, taking this lawsuit to the state supreme court left Apple’s lawyers arguing that employees don’t need to take their Apple devices to work. Who doesn’t take their phone to work? I literally don’t know anyone who leaves the house for anything without their phone.

 ★ 


New Kansas — Miles Newlyn’s Revival of Cooper Black

Miles Newlyn:

Why did you decide to revive Cooper Back in particular? In ’93 I released an elliptical seriffed blackletter font called Ferox and Cooper Black was the inspiration. Since then I’ve spent a fair bit of my career designing type with rounded or soft terminals. The Tate font family is probably my best known of these. I’m motivated by typeforms that have powerful foundations in pop culture, and Cooper Black is the most loved of all.

Why do you think it’s remained so popular over the years? It never looks bad. For that reason it’s available in signage and custom print shops EVERYWHERE. It’s thoroughly embedded in the collective psyche, and so its happy, fun and comforting spirit always reassures.

“Happy, fun, and comforting” is a perfect description of Cooper Black. New Kansas looks to me like an excellent modern digital revival.

 ★ 


Input’s Week-Old Motorola Razr’s Display Already Broke at the Fold

Raymond Wong, writing for Input:

The Motorola Razr nightmare continues. A week after we purchased and reviewed the foldable phone, the plastic OLED display on our $1,500 device is now peeling apart… at the fold. We always try our best to not be alarmist, but when a giant horizontal air bubble appears literally out of nowhere and starts separating the top lamination and the display panel, we have to wonder why anyone would be optimistic about foldable phones.

And then here’s a guy whose brand-new Samsung Galaxy Z Flip cracked at the fold the first time he opened it, perhaps, he thinks, because of cold weather.

Lastly, from one year ago: “Apple ‘Faces Pressure’ to Deliver Foldable iPhone Fast”.

 ★ 


Apple Warns That Coronavirus Outbreak in China Will Affect Revenue This Quarter

Apple press release:

Our quarterly guidance issued on January 28, 2020 reflected the best information available at the time as well as our best estimates about the pace of return to work following the end of the extended Chinese New Year holiday on February 10. Work is starting to resume around the country, but we are experiencing a slower return to normal conditions than we had anticipated. As a result, we do not expect to meet the revenue guidance we provided for the March quarter due to two main factors.

The first is that worldwide iPhone supply will be temporarily constrained. While our iPhone manufacturing partner sites are located outside the Hubei province — and while all of these facilities have reopened — they are ramping up more slowly than we had anticipated. The health and well-being of every person who helps make these products possible is our paramount priority, and we are working in close consultation with our suppliers and public health experts as this ramp continues. These iPhone supply shortages will temporarily affect revenues worldwide.

The second is that demand for our products within China has been affected. All of our stores in China and many of our partner stores have been closed. Additionally, stores that are open have been operating at reduced hours and with very low customer traffic.

Neither of these things should be a surprise. Surely all consumer electronics companies with a manufacturing dependency upon China are affected similarly. For a U.S. company, though, Apple is unique in terms of its retail presence in China. Update: The issue with iPhone suppliers, I know nothing about. But I think Apple itself should have foreseen the decrease in Chinese consumer demand from this outbreak back on January 28. It seems like Apple’s executives actually believed what the Chinese government was saying about this outbreak and based their sales guidance on it.

The other factor I’ve been thinking about is how this outbreak might be affecting the development of future Apple products. Apple’s guidance here is solely about quarterly revenue for this January-March quarter. But Apple employees need to travel to China every day. Remember a year ago, when United Airlines accidentally leaked that Apple was their biggest client, spending $150M a year, including 50 business-class seats to China every day. What I wrote then:

50 seats a day between SFO and Shanghai is just a jaw-dropping number. That’s 25 Apple employees flying home and another 25 heading over every single day.

It’s possible that Apple just has a standing order for those seats, and some days they go unused by Apple employees. But I’ve heard from a few birdies who frequent the SFO-PVG route that “50 seats a day” undercounts the number of Apple employees making this trip, because it’s only counting United. They fly other airlines when those 50 seats are already full, and that’s not uncommon. They also apparently fly a ton on Cathay Pacific because it’s a nicer experience than United.

Those Apple employees who travel to China aren’t doing so for kicks. They have work to do there. Suppliers to meet, parts and prototypes and assembly lines to inspect. The final products are all stamped “Designed by Apple in California / Assembled in China”, but the connection between those two statements is not conducted remotely. It involves a lot of Apple’s own employees traveling to China. If that travel has been curtailed by this outbreak, it’s a problem — but a problem that has nothing to do with the next few weeks.

 ★ 


Square

My thanks to Square for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS. The entirety of their ad text: “Start taking 💸 with the In-App Payments SDK for iOS in less ⏰ than it takes to make ☕️.”.

They’re promoting a short, smart 4-minute video showing just how easy it is to use Square’s In-App Payments SDK for iOS.

 ★ 


The Woman Shaking Up the Diamond Industry

For your weekend reading enjoyment, I highly recommend this recent New Yorker profile of Eira Thomas, co-founder and CEO of diamond-mining upstart Lucara, which has developed a knack for discovering particularly large stones:

Gren Thomas dismissed the idea that Lucara had been lucky. His daughter, he said, was both a workaholic and a rigorous scientist. Although it was “beyond anyone’s dreams” that the biggest diamond since the Cullinan would be discovered at Karowe, he felt that Eira had an unteachable talent for discovery. “She has a good smell for things that are liable to be successful,” Gren told me. “She has a good nose, as they say in our business.”

The whole story is fascinating: from the security of modern diamond mines to the history of the marketing that keeps diamond prices high. And, just a week after publication, Lucara found another very large diamond.

 ★ 


Dieter Bohn’s Motorola Razr Review: ‘Folding Flip Phone Flops’

Dieter Bohn, writing at The Verge:

The camera is perfectly acceptable for a phone that costs around $500 in the year 2018. Unfortunately for Motorola, the Razr costs $1,500 and it is 2020 — a year in which you can buy a Pixel 3A for $399 (or less on discount) with a camera that absolutely smokes the Razr.

It’s a 16-megapixel sensor, and I was able to get decent shots in bright light or simple conditions. But I’ve been able to say that about most smartphone cameras for years now. Introduce even a little complication, like movement, shadow, or low light, and the whole thing falls apart. I had a super hard time even getting it to properly focus on faces. There is a night mode but it doesn’t do much.

I get it that some compromises were inevitable, but the camera shouldn’t have been one. And it just seems so wrong that the hinge — the defining aspect of this very-premiumly-priced device — has an unpleasant creaking sound.

 ★ 


Inside Mark Zuckerberg’s Lost Notebook

Wired has a great excerpt from Steven Levy’s upcoming book on Facebook. Here’s Levy on first meeting Mark Zuckerberg in 2006:

I took it in stride that Zuckerberg looked even younger than his 21 years. I’d been covering hackers and tech companies for long enough to have met other peach-fuzz magnates. But what did shake me was his affect. I asked him a few softball questions about what the company was up to, and he just stared at me. He said nothing. He didn’t seem angry or preoccupied. Just blank. If my questions had been shot from a water pistol at the rock face of a high cliff they would have had more impact.

I was flummoxed. This guy is the CEO, isn’t he? Is he having some sort of episode? Was there something I’d written that made him hate me? Time seemed to freeze as the silence continued.

 ★ 


Let’s Get Real About How Important Our Phones Are

Geoffrey Fowler, writing for The Washington Post:

At its “Unpacked” event here on Tuesday, the world’s largest smartphone maker unveiled a new model called the Galaxy S20 that touts ultrafast 5G and a camera with enough zoom for a spy. A second new smartphone, called the Galaxy Z Flip, opens and closes like a flip phone from 2003, using a cutting-edge folding-screen technology.

And with prices ranging from $1,000 to $1,400, either one is hard to justify as much more than a luxury.

This is the same nonsense we hear about Apple’s phones, post-iPhone X. Yes, phones that cost $1,000 or more are expensive. Yes, that’s outside the budget for most people. But why in the world would anyone argue this is ”hard to justify”? Phones are, for most people, the most-used computing device in their lives. They are also their primary — usually only — camera. A good camera alone used to cost $500-600.

There are way more people on the planet who’d rather have a $1,400 phone and a $400 laptop than the other way around. But you’ll never see a tech reviewer claim that $1,000-1,400 is “hard to justify” for a laptop. It’s ridiculously out of touch to argue otherwise. And, the fact that top-of-the-line phones have reached these price points does not negate the fact that truly excellent phones are available at much lower prices.

 ★ 


21st Century Autocracy

David Frum, writing back in 2017:

What has happened in Hungary since 2010 offers an example — and a blueprint for would-be strongmen. Hungary is a member state of the European Union and a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights. It has elections and uncensored internet. Yet Hungary is ceasing to be a free country.

The transition has been nonviolent, often not even very dramatic. Opponents of the regime are not murdered or imprisoned, although many are harassed with building inspections and tax audits. If they work for the government, or for a company susceptible to government pressure, they risk their jobs by speaking out. Nonetheless, they are free to emigrate anytime they like. Those with money can even take it with them. Day in and day out, the regime works more through inducements than through intimidation. The courts are packed, and forgiving of the regime’s allies. Friends of the government win state contracts at high prices and borrow on easy terms from the central bank. Those on the inside grow rich by favoritism; those on the outside suffer from the general deterioration of the economy. As one shrewd observer told me on a recent visit, “The benefit of controlling a modern state is less the power to persecute the innocent, more the power to protect the guilty.”

21st century autocracy does not resemble 20th century autocracy. It’s a different ballgame. And we’re facing it right here in America, right now. I’m not going to say that the president of the United States brazenly pushing for a lighter criminal sentence for his long-time friend and co-conspirator is the worst that it can get. It’s not, and I think it’s going to get worse. But let’s stop pretending that Trump and his enablers haven’t already crossed the autocrat line. This is where we are; let’s deal with it with our eyes wide open.

 ★ 


Samsung’s Galaxy Book S Is Thinner, Lighter, Faster Than MacBook Air

Sanjiv Sathiah, writing for NotebookCheck:

The Intel Core i5-8210Y delivers a multi-core score of 1544 which compares poorly with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx multi-core score of 2745. Yet, despite fitting the MacBook Air with a 49.9 Wh battery, Apple claims it will deliver just 13 hours of continuous video playback. However, because of the superior performance-per-watt of the Snapdragon 8cx when paired with the smaller 42 Wh battery in the Galaxy Book S, it delivers up to 25 hours (claimed) of continuous video playback. […]

The MacBook Air weighs 1.25 kg (2.75 pounds) and is 15.6 mm (0.61-inches) at its thickest point. This compares with the Galaxy Book S which weighs 0.96 kg (2.11 pounds) and measures 11.8 mm (0.46-inches). Given that buyers of the slightly more expensive MacBook Air (US$1,099) are also only going to be doing relatively light-weight tasks on it like internet browsing and running Microsoft’s Office suite on it, why would anyone choose the MacBook Air over the Galaxy Book S (US$999)?

Well, there’s the small notion of, you know, the operating system. And let’s see if it really does get 25 hours of video playback. But the point stands. A lot of people using MacBooks today aren’t devoted to the MacOS experience, and might switch, based on hardware alone. The ARM revolution for notebook PCs is coming, whether Apple is ready or not.

(I think they’re ready.)

 ★ 


What Jonathan Chait Does Like About Bernie Sanders

In broad strokes, you can probably file me as a Jonathan Chait Democrat. I agree with Chait far more often than not, and when I disagree with him, I almost always think, “Well, he does make some good points.”

Long story short, we’re not Bernie Sanders fans.

But! As Chait points out in his column today, there’s a lot to like about Bernie Sanders even if you’re not a Bernie Sanders Democrat. (I will not bring up the fact that Bernie Sanders himself is not a Democrat.) Among the candidates who seem to have a legitimate chance to win the Democratic nomination this year — Biden, Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, Warren, in alphabetical order — Sanders is far from my first choice. But if he’s the nominee — and he may well be — I will support him wholeheartedly and with no reservations. There is a lot to like about all of these candidates, and those of us in opposition to Trump have got to stick together.

Elections are fundamentally about winning. Trump is already trying to distract and divide us.

 ★ 


Today, in Our Headlong Roll Into Banana Republicdom

Katie Benner:

Senior Justice Department officials intervened to overrule front-line prosecutors and will recommend a more lenient sentencing for Roger J. Stone Jr., convicted last year of impeding investigators in a bid to protect his longtime friend President Trump, a senior department official said Tuesday.

The move is highly unusual and is certain to generate allegations of political interference. It came after federal prosecutors in Washington asked a judge late Monday evening to sentence Mr. Stone to seven to nine years in prison on seven felony convictions for trying to sabotage a congressional investigation that threatened Mr. Trump.

Early on Tuesday, Mr. Trump declared the sentencing recommendation “horrible and very unfair.”

“The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”

Trump is not just intervening on behalf of a friend, it’s a case where Trump himself (and his son) were up to their necks in it.

“Highly unusual” is an absurd euphemism.

 ★ 


Fox’s Redesigned NFL Graphics

John Teti, writing for The AV Club:

Everyone has their own focal point on Super Bowl Sunday. Some viewers are there for the halftime show. Others watch for the commercials. And let’s not forget those of us who tune in to see the main event: three hours of men in brightly colored garments, pummeling each other, for America.

Those are all marvelous reasons to watch, but in my living room, there was yet another, admittedly obscure facet of the game that filled me with anticipation right up until kickoff, as I wondered, “Will Fox premiere a new suite of onscreen graphics for the Super Bowl?” The answer, to my delight, was yes.

It really is a good graphics system — replacing an older design that was also very good. It works well for everyone — those who are playing close attention to the game and those who are not, but just want to see what’s going on at a glance.

(Via Todd Vaziri.)

 ★ 


MLB’s 2020 Batting Practice Caps Are Mostly Terrible

Paul Kafasis:

I know it goes against all logic and reason, but it really seems like shoving one logo inside of another logo is not a great way to design a third logo.

 ★ 


Oscar-Winning Screenwriter Taika Waititi, Asked What Writers Should Be Asking for in the Next Round of Talks With Producers: ‘Apple Needs to Fix Those Keyboards. They Are Impossible to Write on. They’ve Gotten Worse. It Makes Me Want to Go Back to PCs.’

This clip is making the rounds this morning, with good reason. It hits home. Watch the whole video — Waititi is obviously being a bit glib with the entire premise of his answer, but he’s not joking. He’s a writer and writers really care about keyboards.

I’ve been saying for years now that Apple has done severe reputational harm to the MacBook brand, which effectively is the Mac brand for most people, especially writers. Yes, there’s a new keyboard with scissor-switch mechanisms in the 16-inch MacBook Pro. It’s a pleasure to type on. But we’re still months away from the rest of the MacBook lineup being updated to use that new keyboard. And that’s a presumption on my part, that all MacBooks will get the new keyboard sooner rather than later. It certainly wouldn’t make any sense if they didn’t — but the whole butterfly-switch saga has never made any sense.

Apple could switch every single Mac in the lineup to the new keyboards tomorrow, and people would still be joking about MacBook keyboards for years to come.

 ★ 


[Sponsor] Square

Start taking 💸 with the In-App Payments SDK for iOS in less ⏰ than it takes to make ☕️.

 ★ 


Morning Brew

My thanks to Morning Brew for sponsoring DF last week. There’s a reason over 1 million people start their day with Morning Brew — the daily email that delivers the latest news from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. Business news doesn’t have to be dry and dense… make your mornings more enjoyable, for free.

I’ve been subscribed for over six months. It’s a great daily read — concise, fun, and a clean crisp design. You get one email each morning and that’s it. I recommend it.

 ★ 


France Fines Apple $27 Million

On the one hand, this is bullshit.

On the other hand, Apple generates $27 million in profit every two or three hours.

 ★ 


★ The DF Tootbot Is Once Again Fully Operational
For those of you who do follow the @daringfireball Twitter account, I apologize for the erratic posting schedule these last three months. It should be back to normal now, and for the foreseeable future.

A brief housekeeping note. In early November, I moved this website to a new server. It had been at the old server since 2007. One small thing that broke during the move is the script I use to automatically tweet links to new DF posts from the @daringfireball Twitter account — the DF Tootbot.

What broke is fairly technical, so I’ll try to make this short. The basic gist of how the script works:

  1. Read the DF RSS feed to get a list of all current posts.
  2. Go through each post in the feed and see if there are entries that (a) haven’t yet been tweeted, and (b) are at least 5 minutes old. (The reason for (b) is so that I have a few minutes after initially publishing to fix any egregious mistakes or typos.)
  3. Upon finding an entry that meets both criteria in #2, tweet it, using the entry’s title and URL as the text of the tweet.
  4. Add that DF post to a history log so that it won’t get tweeted again.

The script runs once per minute as a cron job. That’s it.

What broke when I moved servers was the history log. When I first wrote the script 10+ years ago, I used a database, cleverly thinking, “If this Twitter thing is here to stay, I’ll eventually tweet tens of thousands of posts, so I should use a database so lookups don’t get slow and the whole thing continues to run fast years from now.” The database I chose, unfortunately, is one that sometimes changes its underlying file format with major version updates.1 There were a lot of major version updates to Perl in the years since I last moved servers.

What I could have done is just start over with a new history log on the new server, and manually fill the new database with the last few weeks of entries. For the purposes of tweeting new entries from the RSS feed, there’s no reason to keep a full historical log. The script just needs to know which recent articles — articles still in the feed — have already been tweeted.

It bothered me that the script was using a database at all. It bothered me because the database wasn’t something I could just open in BBEdit and inspect and edit by hand. I’m a text file guy, as you may know. Because here’s the thing: reading a simple text file log with tens of thousands of lines is really really fast on a modern computer. It would have been more than fast enough 10 years ago, and it’s much faster today.

I wrote a test script and ran it against a 53 MB text file log with 1 million lines. It ran in a blink of an eye. A fraction of a second. I hope to write Daring Fireball for a long time to come, but I really doubt I have a million posts in me.

A database was overkill. I ran afoul of Donald Knuth’s well-known axiom:

Programmers waste enormous amounts of time thinking about, or worrying about, the speed of noncritical parts of their programs, and these attempts at efficiency actually have a strong negative impact when debugging and maintenance are considered. We should forget about small efficiencies, say about 97% of the time: premature optimization is the root of all evil.

So, I decided I should rewrite that part of the DF Tootbot to do what it should have done all along: use a simple human-readable text file for the history log. There were a few other changes I wanted to make, too — like switching from DF’s RSS feed to the JSON feed as the source for new articles, and supporting Twitter’s 280-character limit.

In the meantime, I had a copy of the old version of the script on my Mac that I could run manually. Three months of procrastination later, I finally spent Monday writing the new version and getting it running on the new DF server. This was the first tweet posted by the new Tootbot.2

In the interim, during the previous three months when @daringfireball tweets were only being triggered by me manually, the time between when I posted new items to Daring Fireball and when they got tweeted was, to put it mildly, erratic. Manually doing anything that should be automated is a bad idea for anyone, but it’s a particularly bad idea for someone with a strong tendency to think about only one thing at a time and pretty much forget everything else.


So why do I even bother with my own custom script for posting these tweets? Indeed, there are many services one can use for posting new items from a blog to a Twitter account.

I like having control over such things. Shocker, I know. For example, I want complete control over the exact text of the tweets. What happens, for example, when a DF post has a headline that’s too long to fit in a tweet? In that case, I want the headline to be truncated as elegantly as possible, at a whole word, with an ellipsis added to indicate the truncated words, and inside any double or single quotation marks that end the headline. With Twitter’s 2017 change from 140 characters to 280 as the upper limit of a tweet, that’s not common — but it can happen.


For those of you who don’t follow the @daringfireball Twitter account, consider it. It’s a great way to see when something new or updated has been posted to DF, and with Twitter’s app, you can even get notifications of new items. (Go to the @daringfireball account profile and tap the little bell icon — you can use this to get per-account Twitter notifications from anyone.)

For those of you who do follow @daringfireball, I apologize for the erratic posting schedule these last three months. It should be back to normal now, and for the foreseeable future.


  1. Perl nerds only: I was using `DB_File` to tie a hash with a Berkeley DB. I have never used `DB_File` before or since, and in hindsight really can’t believe that I used it for this. ↩︎

  2. Keen observers will note a slight formatting change. The old Tootbot tweeted title + ": " + url (title and url separated by a colon and space); the new Tootbot tweets title + "\n" + url (title and url separated by a newline). This new format is a better compromise between how Twitter itself and third-party clients like Tweetbot and Twitterrific — both much-used by DF readers — display tweets. ↩︎︎


From the DF Archive, Heretofore the Longest Headline in DF History: ‘Yet Another in the Ongoing Series Wherein I Examine a Piece of Supposedly Serious Apple Analysis From a Major Media Outlet and Dissect Its Inaccuracies, Fabrications, and Exaggerations Point-by-Point, Despite the Fact That No Matter How Egregious the Inaccuracies / Fabrications / Exaggerations, Such Pieces Inevitably Lead to Accusations That I’m Some Sort of Knee-Jerk Shill Who Rails Against Anything “Anti-Apple” Simply for the Sake of Defending Apple, and if I Love Apple So Much Why Don’t I Just Marry Them?’

I’ll explain why I’m re-linking this now in a bit, but it’s also a fun bit of claim chowder from a staunch iPhone doubter who somehow finagled a Fast Company cover story.

 ★ 


Our Long National Nightmare Is Over: Netflix Makes Preview Autoplay Optional

They’ve offered a setting for “Autoplay next episode in a series” for years, but the new setting released today for “Autoplay previews while browsing” is the thing that has driven me nuts.

 ★ 


‘Apple, Just Bundle News+ Already’

MG Siegler:

This isn’t rocket science. It’s not any kind of science. It’s common sense. News+ was never going to work as a stand-alone subscription offering from Apple. With the news today of a key departure from the group, perhaps the company now sees that. But the writing has been on the wall from day one. […]

So, what to do?

It’s so obvious that it’s already rumored. Make News+ a part of an Apple bundle. Yes, yes, “Apple Prime” as it were. Flip the script so that News+ isn’t yet another cognitive load on us. Something that may be a good deal but will I really have time for that? To: oh wow, this is included in what I already pay for? Awesome.

I don’t know if there’s a strategy behind waiting to unveil such a bundle, or if they’re still working on the technical and possible licensing details behind it, or if internally Apple is actually still debating the merits of a bundle. But I’m with Siegler: it seems obvious.

At the very least such a bundle should include Music, TV+, News+, and Arcade, but I’d like to see it include increased iCloud storage too. One single family subscription to get the best Apple “Services” have to offer. And the name is obvious at this point: Apple+.

 ★ 


New Features in iOS / iPadOS 13.4 Beta 1

Lots of new stuff for a .4 update, including several new features when hardware keyboards are used with an iPad. Key remapping, for example, which allows you to, say, map the Caps Lock key to Escape.

 ★ 


Who Buys Big SUVs?

Aaron Gordon, writing for Vice on the return of the Hummer:

And that portrait is largely the result of one consultant who worked for Chrysler, Ford, and GM during the SUV boom: Clotaire Rapaille. Rapaille, a French emigree, believed the SUV appealed — at the time to mostly upper-middle class suburbanites — to a fundamental subconscious animalistic state, our “reptilian desire for survival,” as relayed by Bradsher. (“We don’t believe what people say,” the website for Rapaille’s consulting firm declares. Instead, they use “a unique blend of biology, cultural anthropology and psychology to discover the hidden cultural forces that pre-organize the way people behave towards a product, service or concept”). Americans were afraid, Rapaille found through his exhaustive market research, and they were mostly afraid of crime even though crime was actually falling and at near-record lows. As Bradsher wrote, “People buy SUVs, he tells auto executives, because they are trying to look as menacing as possible to allay their fears of crime and other violence.” They, quite literally, bought SUVs to run over “gang members” with, Rapaille found.

Perhaps this sounds farfetched, but the auto industry’s own studies agreed with this general portrait of SUV buyers. Bradsher described that portrait, comprised of marketing reports from the major automakers, as follows:

Who has been buying SUVs since automakers turned them into family vehicles? They tend to be people who are insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood. They often lack confidence in their driving skills. Above all, they are apt to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors or communities.

I recently rented a Chevy Tahoe because we needed the storage capacity for a day trip. I can’t believe anyone chooses to drive these things daily. It’s like driving a car inside a car, no feel for the road at all.

 ★ 


Wacom Drawing Tablets Track the Name of Every Application That You Open

Robert Heaton:

Last week I set up my tablet on my new laptop. As part of installing its drivers I was asked to accept Wacom’s privacy policy.

Being a mostly-normal person I never usually read privacy policies. Instead I vigorously hammer the “yes” button in an effort to reach the game, machine, or medical advice on the other side of the agreement as fast as possible. But Wacom’s request made me pause. Why does a device that is essentially a mouse need a privacy policy? I wondered. Sensing skullduggery, I decided to make an exception to my anti-privacy-policy-policy and give this one a read.

Absolutely appalling what Wacom tracks.

 ★ 


★ My 2019 Apple Report Card
This year 65 voters (hand-selected by Snell) graded Apple in 12 areas. I was one of them, and, like last year, thought it only fair to publish my grades and remarks here at Daring Fireball.

Last week Jason Snell published his annual Six Colors Apple Report Card for 2019. This year 65 voters (hand-selected by Snell) graded Apple in 12 areas. I was one of them, and, like last year, thought it only fair to publish my grades and remarks here at Daring Fireball. Comments in [brackets] are additional commentary I wrote now, and were not included in what I submitted to Snell.

Mac: D

This was a hard score for me to assign.

My first thoughts went to hardware. We’ve got an amazing new Mac Pro that rekindles the era of workstations that offer the best performance money can buy. The best CPUs, the best SSDs, the best RAM (up to 1.5 TB!). And it’s a tremendous design accomplishment — there aren’t even any cables inside the machine. We also have a new 16-inch MacBook Pro that I think is the best notebook Apple has made in 5-6 years. It fixes everything wrong with the 15-inch MacBook Pros that preceded it — especially the keyboard.

Everything isn’t perfect on the hardware front. The iMac Pro is now two years old. It’s a great machine but it hasn’t been touched in two years. That’s not pro. You can say it’s Intel’s fault because the iMac Pro is based on a line of Xeon CPUs that haven’t been updated in two years, but it’s Apple’s name on the box. The buck stops with Apple. And while the 16-inch MacBook Pro now has a totally new, totally great keyboard, it’s the most expensive model in the lineup and none of the other MacBooks have that keyboard. Yet, we all presume, but the fact is, if you buy a MacBook Air today — the best-selling, most-popular MacBook — you are not getting a good keyboard. So all things considered, I’d say a B for Mac hardware.

Then I think about software. And that means thinking about MacOS 10.15 Catalina. And those thoughts are not good. Off the top of my head I’m hard pressed to think of anything in Catalina that’s an improvement over 10.14 Mojave, and I can think of a lot of things that are worse. I get it that security and convenience are at odds, and it’s a difficult job for Apple to find the balanced sweet spot between the two. But Catalina clearly bends too far in the direction of security. By design, it’s just too inconvenient, with apps generating system-level alerts prompting for permission for things as rudimentary as being able to see the files on my desktop — sometimes when those apps are in the background, and I know that at the moment the alert appears those apps are not trying to read files on my desktop. But why in the world is the desktop treated as some sort of sensitive location?

Back in 2007 Apple ran a “Get a Mac” commercial mocking Windows Vista for this exact same sort of overzealous permission nagging. That’s exactly what Catalina feels like.

If Apple has somehow determined that typical users need these sort of permission alerts, fine, but there should be a single switch for expert users to toggle to effectively say “I trust all of the software on my Mac”. Call it “Pro Mode”, call it “Developer Mode”, call it “Expert Mode”, whatever. But I don’t know a single expert Mac user who is not seriously annoyed by the heavy-handed security design of Catalina. Not one. Every single expert user I know is annoyed. That is a bad place for MacOS to be. MacOS 10.16 needs a serious course correction to fix this, and if 10.16 goes the opposite way — growing even more heavy-handed in restricting professional Mac users from just using their machines as they want and expect to — I genuinely fear for the future of the Mac as a platform for serious computer users. Which is crazy considering that Apple just unveiled Mac Pro workstation hardware that can cost upwards of $50,000.

And there are bugs in Catalina. Lots and lots of bugs. About one out of ten times that I open my new 16-inch MacBook Pro, the display contrast is horribly wrong. [Not sure if I’m on a lucky streak or if this actually got fixed, but I haven’t seen this issue in over a week.] I can “fix” it by either turning the display brightness way down and then back up, or by closing the lid and reopening it. But I’ve been using Mac laptops for 20 years and I’ve never once had an issue like that. Another paper-cut bug: turn off toolbars in Finder windows and a few minutes later, the toolbars will reappear. There are always bugs in new OS releases, and we always complain that the state of Apple’s software is too buggy. But no one can convince me that Catalina is not abnormally buggy, even now, months after release.

And then there’s Catalyst. Don’t get me started.

If I could give Mac hardware and software separate scores, I’d give hardware a B and software an F — not one thing about Mac software got better in 2019 and everything that did change made it worse. Where’s the Tylenol?

iPhone: B

2019 was a stellar year for iPhone hardware. I love all the iPhone 11 models. I’ve been an avid hobbyist photographer for 20 years and I happily shoot over 95 percent of my photos using my iPhone. Everything about the iPhone 11 cameras is great, from the hardware to the Camera app software. I love the new ultra-wide angle lens in all of the 11 models, and I think Apple made the right call using the ultra-wide as the only additional lens on the regular iPhone 11 (as opposed to the telephoto). My one and only significant gripe is that there’s only one size for the non-Pro iPhone 11. There ought to be a smaller one.

iOS 13 is a very good release. Shortcuts are proving to be the most exciting power-user feature in the history of iOS as a platform. Sharing sheets are better than ever too. I think the overall look is getting a bit dated, though. A fair amount of Z-axis depth has been restored since the visual reboot in iOS 7, but it still feels obsessively “flat”. And parts of Apple’s iOS software feel designed only to look good, as opposed to actually be good from an interactive standpoint.

[I think my Mac remarks made me grumpy — I wrote them before anything else for my report card. If I were grading the iPhone in 2019 today, I’d bump it up to an A.]

iPad: D

iPad hardware is wonderful. It seems like iPad Pro hardware is on a roughly 18-month refresh schedule, so there was nothing new in Pro hardware in 2019, but the current models are so good in every regard that that’s just fine. And the consumer models offer the best bang-for-the-buck of any computers Apple has ever sold, period. Just like with the Mac, I’d give iPad hardware an excellent score on its own, an A.

But to say that I’m not a fan of iPadOS is an understatement. I wish there were a switch to force iPadOS back to the pre “multitasking” days when the iPad interaction model was “just a big iPhone” — where every app was full screen and there was no drag-and-drop. I only ever accidentally drag things like links, and I find iPadOS’s concept of “windows” to be baffling. [Turns out there sort of is such a mode in Settings → Home Screen & Dock → Multitasking.] Getting the split-screen and Slide Over stuff to work is utterly unintuitive. It’s not the sort of thing you can figure out on your own just by using it, which is how the Mac user interface works. You have to know in advance how iPadOS split-screen stuff works. Just consider the fundamentals: if you want to launch an app you just tap it on the home screen or in the Dock. So far so good. But if you want a second app next to the first one, you have to drag the icon for that app out of the Dock? Why in the world would dragging an app icon launch an instance of an app? Forget about the Mac — what other platform in the world works like that? Put instances of Safari in two different “windows” — say, one split-screened with Notes and another in a “window” of its own. Then, using a hardware keyboard, Command-Tab to Safari. Which one comes forward? Toss a coin. It’s madness. I’m glad Apple started branding iOS and iPadOS separately. One of them is very cohesive, the other is incoherent. The iPadOS multitasking emperor has no clothes. I wish I could run iOS on my iPad Pro.

Apple Watch: B

Steady as she goes. I love my titanium Series 5.

[I think Apple could do a much better job with watch face design. I’m not talking about allowing third-party watch faces, which, if I were in charge of Apple Watch, I wouldn’t allow either. I’m talking about Apple’s own watch faces, the only ones we can choose from.]

Wearables: A

Regular AirPods remain great and AirPods Pro are my favorite headphones ever.

Apple TV: D

No new hardware and the new Apple TV app is confusing. I’d be fine with a hardware update that did nothing but include an altogether new remote control — but a price drop would be good too. The overwhelming majority of my non-sports TV watching is done via Apple TV, and that damn remote is a daily nuisance.

Services: B

This was the year of Services for Apple — they even had a dedicated Services event. I think they mostly nailed it. The original TV series I was interested in were all good to great (The Morning Show, For All Mankind, Servant), and I think the “start with a whole year for free with the purchase of any iPhone, iPad, or Mac” promotion is just what the doctor ordered for a new service with a very limited library of content.

I’m still wary of Apple entering the credit card business, period, but I use my Apple Card for all Apple Pay purchases (to get the 2 percent cash back). Daily cash back is a great feature, and Apple’s 6 percent cash back promotion for Apple Store purchases during the holiday gift season was undeniably a great deal.

I’ll keep beating the drum that iCloud storage tiers are too small, though — especially the 5 GB free tier.

HomeKit/Home: C

I’ll give this whole a category a “meh”. We use it at home, mostly to control smart window shades and lights, but I think for most people, if you haven’t even really looked into it yet, I’d say you’re not missing much. I feel like Apple still hasn’t gotten close to making HomeKit truly compelling.

Hardware Reliability: A

This sort of thing is highly subjective, but everything new I’ve used this year has been rock solid.

Software Quality: C

The saving grace is iOS, by which I mean iPhone’s iOS. See my comments on Mac and iPad and Apple TV above. I’d go with a B for iOS and D for the others.

Developer Relations: C

From what I’ve seen from developer friends, App Store review times are truly excellent now — a complete change from before the reorganization that put App Store review under Phil Schiller. But when an App Store review does hit a snag, it can go completely dark (from the developer’s perspective) for a week or longer. There’s still much room for improvement here. And I continue to believe Apple should lighten up on allowing apps to at least link to websites where content purchases can be made.

Social/Societal Impact: C

It’s good for the entire world that Apple is a staunch supporter of LGBT and racial equality, serious environmentalism, privacy as a human right, and true user-controlled encryption as an aspect of privacy.

It’s an absolute disgrace that Apple allowed Donald Trump to use the Mac Pro assembly plant in Austin as the backdrop for an event to promote his re-election. I called it “a low moment in Apple’s proud history, and a sadly iconic moment for Tim Cook” when it happened, and feel just as strongly two months later. Trump is a liar, a crook, and his administration has proven to be a menace to everything Apple stands for: LGBT and racial equality, the environment, and privacy as a human right.


Spotify Is Buying Bill Simmons’s The Ringer

Peter Kafka, reporting for Recode:

Spotify is making yet another big-budget purchase aimed at getting a lead in the growing podcast industry: The streaming music company has agreed to a deal to purchase The Ringer, the podcast-centric media company run and owned by Bill Simmons.

Spotify intends to hire Simmons and all of his approximately 90 employees. Most of those employees work on The Ringer’s website, which covers sports and culture, and Spotify intends to keep the site up and running.

But what Spotify really wants out of the deal is Simmons’s ability to create podcasts, including his Bill Simmons Podcast, and some 30 other titles, which range from an NBA chat show to one devoted to rewatching old movies.

I remain deeply wary of Spotify’s intentions in the podcast space, but if they keep The Ringer’s podcasts as open podcasts, this acquisition really shouldn’t matter much to listeners.

 ★ 


Apple Adds Ability for Developers to Sell Mac and iOS Apps as a Single Purchase

Apple Developer news:

Starting in March 2020, you’ll be able to distribute iOS, iPadOS, macOS, and tvOS versions of your app as a universal purchase, allowing customers to enjoy your app and in‑app purchases across platforms by purchasing only once. You can choose to create a new app for these platforms using a single app record in App Store Connect or add platforms to your existing app record. Get started by building and testing your apps using a single bundle ID with Xcode 11.4 beta.

Michael Tsai:

It’s great to have the option for universal purchases, but tying it to the bundle identifier seems problematic. What if you’ve already shipped an app for multiple platforms? Apple doesn’t let you change the bundle identifier. Do you have to abandon the old app (losing its links and ratings and migrating its files and AppleScripts) or maintain two separate apps?

From the business side, it’s a great user experience for customers who want to pay once and get everything. But what about customers who only want the iPhone version and may not even own a Mac or Apple TV? They have to pay the same price? And, for developers, this is likely to further devalue software. Get all the versions for one low price, with Apple implying that it didn’t take much extra effort.

 ★ 


Liz Plank on Nancy Pelosi Tearing Up Trump’s State of the Union Speech

Liz Plank, writing for NBC News:

Of course the speaker is getting pushback. Pelosi displaying the tiniest bit of rage exemplifies the scrutiny that awaits her and women in politics — a scrutiny that is even worse for women of color. Women learn early on to mask anger because they know they’ll be punished for it. While Trump gets to have a meltdown almost every day, female politicians have to be much more savvy and calculated when communicating even the slightest bit of emotion.

But as I watched the twittersphere debate whether Pelosi’s small act of civil disobedience was out of line or not, all I could think about were the Democratic voters I got to interview in Iowa this week leading up to the Iowa caucus. And how desperate they are to win this November. The stakes in the 2020 elections are higher than ever and the voters feel it. Every single caucusgoer I spoke to said the same thing: “We need someone who can beat Trump.”

So will the Democrats continue to play nice? Will they smile through their frustration as the president hurls insults and disgraces the office he is privileged to sit in every day? Or do they want to win?

Pelosi — and I choose this word deliberately — triggers Republicans because she’s (a) a woman, and (b) plays hardball. She’s not fucking around. She was cool as ice as she tore that speech — it was like she was ripping up a junk mail credit card offer. It’s Republicans who’ve flipped out emotionally.

For decades now Republicans have been playing win-at-any-cost hardball politics, while Democrats have played nice. Trump’s presidency has laid bare what should have been obvious to Democrats long ago — they must play hardball too. The difference has been hardball vs. playing-nice-ball. It needs to be win-at-any-cost-including-subverting-democracy hardball (Republicans) vs. hardball with integrity (Democrats).

Pelosi gets that. And it drives Republicans nuts. The Democrats have played nice for so long that Republicans are outraged when a Democrat simply gives them a taste of their own hardball medicine.

 ★ 


Looks Like Eddy Cue Was Right

Stuart McGurk, interviewing Eddy Cue for GQ last summer:

And yet the rumours that have so far come out regarding Apple’s TV shows are that they’re purposefully taking streaming back to the network TV age: fun for all the family. The New York Post reported that Cook and Cue were visiting sets in order to rein in shows that weren’t toeing the line. […]

Cook’s most common note on scripts, according to the report, was “Don’t be so mean.”

“I saw the comments that myself and Tim were writing notes on the scripts and whatever,” says Cue. “There’s never been one note passed from us on scripts, that I can assure you. We leave the folks [alone] who know they’re doing.”

So Cook didn’t give that particular note?

“I can assure you that was 100 percent false. He didn’t say, ‘Don’t be so mean.’ He didn’t say anything about a script.”

The NY Post report in question has never been walked back either. Say what you want about Apple’s original content thus far, but it does not lack for meanness.

 ★ 


Claim Chowder on the WSJ’s ‘No Sex Please, We’re Apple’ Story

Tripp Mickle and Joe Flint, writing back in September 2018 for The Wall Street Journal, “No Sex Please, We’re Apple: iPhone Giant Seeks TV Success on Its Own Terms”:

Apple’s entertainment team must walk a line few in Hollywood would consider. Since Mr. Cook spiked “Vital Signs,” Apple has made clear, say producers and agents, that it wants high-quality shows with stars and broad appeal, but it doesn’t want gratuitous sex, profanity or violence.

The result is an approach out of step with the triumphs of the video-streaming era. Other platforms, such as HBO and Amazon.com Inc., have made their mark in original content with edgier programming that often wins critical acclaim. Netflix Inc., which helped birth the streaming revolution, built its original-content business on “House of Cards,” a drama about an ethically bankrupt politician, and “Orange Is the New Black,” a comedic drama about a women’s prison. Both feature rough language and plenty of sex.

I suppose you can argue about the word “gratuitous”, but the TV+ shows I’ve watched — The Morning Show, For All Mankind, and Servant — don’t seem to hold back on sex or strong language. The Morning Show and Servant in particular are clearly adult shows. I haven’t watched See, but from what I’ve heard, it too is for adults. As far as I’m aware, The Wall Street Journal never walked this back.

 ★ 


Remembering Pantscast

The story behind the very best high-fidelity podcast audio processing engine ever made.

 ★ 


Overcast Adds Voice Boost 2

The story behind the second-best high-fidelity podcast audio processing engine ever made.

 ★ 


Purported Video of Samsung Galaxy Z Flip in Action

What problems does this solve? Who has a pocket that isn’t deep enough for an unfolded phone but is thick enough for this thing folded up? This is pure gimmickry.

 ★ 


New Promotion From Apple Offers Up to $100 for Series 2 and Series 3 Watch Models

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

Apple is currently running a new Apple Watch promotion that’s ideal for anyone who is considering trading in an older Apple Watch model to purchase a new model. Apple is offering up to $100 on the Apple Watch Series 2 and Apple Watch Series 3 models, which is a higher trade-in amount than Apple normally offers for those devices.

No word on what you can get for a Series 0 in 18-karat solid gold.

 ★ 


Federico Viticci’s Review of the New Fantastical

Federico Viticci, writing for MacStories:

I’ll cut right to the chase: I’ve been using the new Fantastical for the past few months (hence the inclusion in my Must-Have Apps story), and it’s become the only calendar app I need, offering more power and flexibility than any alternative from Apple or the App Store. The free version of the new Fantastical — effectively, Fantastical 2 with a fresh coat of paint and some smaller bonuses — is a capable alternative to Apple’s Calendar app, but the Premium version is where Flexibits’ latest creation truly shines. At $40/year, Fantastical Premium may be a big ask for some users, but as a busy individual who deals with teammates all over the globe and likes Fantastical’s new features, I plan to subscribe.

Among my favorite new features: complete feature-parity between platforms (previously, the Mac could do more than the iOS versions); integrated weather from a great source, AccuWeather (which is, needless to say, not a free service for Flexibits to offer); calendar sets with iCloud syncing; “interesting calendars” from SchedJoules like team schedules for your favorite sports (also not a free service for Flexibits); and full task support integrating with Apple Reminders, Todoist, and Google Tasks.

The interface of the apps, as usual from Flexibits, is exquisite. Take note, in particular, of the top-left-corner menu button in the iPhone app. It animates joyfully when opening, has subtle haptic feedback, and you can just tap-and-drag to select an item from it.

 ★ 


Fantastical 3’s Move to Subscription Pricing

Speaking of the App Store and the market for pro utility software, here, once again, is Dieter Bohn:

It’s not every day we get to talk about a good old-fashioned utility app update. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re a dying breed, but the Apple App Store platform dynamics of recent years have made their row much harder to hoe.

Which is one reason I’m happy to say that if you’re a Mac or iPhone user (or, ideally, both), you should absolutely go check out the newly updated Fantastical apps. There are a few new features and parity across platforms — I personally am excited for a calendar app that integrates with several to-do apps.

The thing about this update that may grab some attention is that it is moving to a subscription model. Historically, this kind of move has sparked consternation, but I’m not feeling any of that. It’s $4.99 a month or — in my preferred way to talk about subscription pricing — $40 per year (a $20 discount). That subscription gets you access to the iPhone, Mac, iPad, and Apple Watch apps. Non-Apple users should look elsewhere.

I think the subscription model is totally fair, especially given Flexibits’ history of updates and quality. That’s partially because, as I alluded to up top, there really aren’t better options for this category of apps given the rules laid down by Apple in the App Store.

Consternation indeed. Lots of complaining on Twitter, and Fantastical 3’s App Store reviews have been dragged down by angry users complaining about the pricing change. For users who only used Fantastical on iPhone, I can see the complaint about pricing — it went from a one-time purchase of $4-5 to a $40 annual subscription. That’s a big jump. But — and this is a huge “but” — Flexibits (Fantastical’s developer) went out of its way to let anyone who owned Fantastical 2 keep the features they already had access to when upgrading to Fantastical 3. If you owned Fantastical 2 you can use Fantastical 3 free of charge and keep the features you already had.

And if, like me, you used Fantastical across iPhone, iPad, and Mac (they previously sold the iPad app as a separate version from iPhone), $40 a year is quite reasonable. Fantastical is a professional calendaring (and now task management) app, and as Bohn points out, subscriptions are the best way for a developer like Flexibits to succeed in the App Store.

 ★ 


Google Has Paid Android Developers About $80 Billion to Date

Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge:

We’ll have analysis of YouTube’s numbers up on the site today, so instead I’ll just pay a little more attention to the Android bit: a total of $80 billion paid out to Android developers, which is significantly less than the $155 billion Apple has paid out via the iOS App Store.

Even if you account for Google allowing developers to use their own payment methods and made a bunch of other caveats, I suspect you can’t avoid the truth. The vast majority of phones on Earth run Android, and yet it is almost surely the case that there’s more money for developers in iPhone apps. That’s always been the conventional wisdom, but Google’s own numbers all but confirm it.

I’d say $80 billion compared to Apple’s $155 billion is a very respectable number, all things considered. In the early days of the mobile revolution, the big debate was whether the Android-iOS competition would play out like Windows-Mac did in the ’90s. I, for one, was correct that it would not.

But I think we were all wrong — myself included — about the biggest trend of all. The question wasn’t about whether there was more money to be made developing for iOS than Android — it was about whether there was money to be made developing for mobile, period. Obviously, $235 billion in combined payments from Apple and Google is a lot of money. But how much of that is for games? Productivity and utility software has turned out to be a hard sell to mobile users. The default is “free”.

 ★ 


Toni Sacconaghi Estimates Fewer Than 10 Percent of Eligible Customers May Have Used Apple TV+ Free Trial

Stephen Warwick, writing for iMore:

According to Investor’s Business Daily:

Less than 10% of Apple customers eligible for 12-month free trials of the company’s Apple TV+ streaming video service have taken the offer, a Wall Street analyst said Monday. Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi estimates that under 10 million Apple customers have accepted the free trial offer. He calls that a “surprisingly low take rate.”

The report is in stark contrast to a recent WSJ report, which included estimates that Apple TV+ may have north of 30 million subscribers. As is per usual with these sorts of estimates, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle.

Either that, or everyone is wrong.

It is a great deal — why not watch the shows you’re interested in free-of-charge? And Apple does make it easy to unsubscribe — it’s the opposite of, say, trying to cancel your cable subscription. And Apple has done an excellent job of making it really easy for eligible customers — those who’ve recently bought a qualifying device — to get their year-long free subscription started with a big button in the TV app on every device they make. If you buy a new Mac you can start your subscription from iPhone or Apple TV or iPad.

But I wonder how many people who qualify know all of this. How many people don’t know because they never even open the TV app? How many people who see the offer in the TV app don’t try it because they don’t trust that it’s really free for an entire year, and is very easy to cancel before getting charged in 12 months? How many people know that it works perfectly with family sharing — so even if they’re not personally interested in any of TV+’s shows, if any of their family members are, it’s worth signing up?

 ★ 


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 ★ 


YouTube Is a $15 Billion-a-Year Business, Google Reveals for the First Time

Nick Statt, reporting for The Verge:

YouTube generated nearly $5 billion in ad revenue in the last three months, Google revealed today as part of parent company Alphabet’s fourth quarter earnings report. This is the first report under newly instated Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, who took over as the chief executive of the entire company late last year after co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin stepped back from day-to-day duties.

The announcement marks the first time in YouTube’s nearly 15 years as a Google-owned platform, since Google bought the website in 2006 for $1.65 billion, that the company has revealed how much money YouTube-hosted ads contribute to the search giant’s bottom line. On an annual basis, that makes YouTube a $15 billion-a-year business that contributes roughly 10 percent to all Google revenue. It also makes YouTube’s annual earnings nearly one fifth the size of all of Facebook’s.

Why release this now? Speculation centers around the fact that Alphabet’s revenue was $800M less than expected, even though profits beat expectations. Perhaps Alphabet is now breaking out revenue by product to emphasize that they’re not solely dependent on search.

Update: Jeremy Owens, writing for MarketWatch:

Revenue-recognition rules that were approved in 2014 and went into effect at the end of 2017 call on companies to report financial results to their investors in the same manner that they are reported to the main decision-maker at the company, typically the chief executive. Basically, if a CEO sees numbers for a large segment of the company, the company should be reporting that segment’s results to investors.

As the revenue-recognition rules were being put in place by companies in 2017 ahead of the deadline, the Securities and Exchange Commission entered into communication with Alphabet specifically to discern why it was not providing revenue numbers for its segments, mentioning YouTube, Google Cloud and some other businesses, such as hardware. Google responded by saying that its chief decision-maker, Alphabet CEO Larry Page, did not see results parsed to that level, though Google CEO Sundar Pichai did.

 ★ 


Louie Mantia on the State of iOS UI Design

Deeply insightful thread from Louie Mantia:

People think iOS 7 killed superfluous things like wood textures, but more seriously it downplayed visual design. We lost things like shadows and lighting. This stuff isn’t just a veneer. They are tools. They were used to indicate so many things like inactivity or focus.

In 2020, iPadOS doesn’t convey app focus in split-screen mode. But window focus was apparent over 35 years ago on the original Macintosh. It was only black and white! But today when we have millions of colors, we don’t indicate focus well.

So perfectly said. Post-iOS 7, Apple has been obsessed with not indicating focus. A clear indication of input focus is so helpful to everyone from novices to experts.

The lack of focus indication is much more of a problem on iOS (iPhone and iPad, but especially iPad simply because the displays are so much bigger) than MacOS. But even Apple’s Mac apps often hide focus — I wish the text input field in Messages had a focus ring (like Safari’s location field does — or Message’s own search field), for example.

 ★ 


Faking a Traffic Jam on Google Maps With 99 Spare Phones

Interesting prank / proof of concept by Simon Weckert — he toted 99 second-hand phones around in a wagon, and thereby tricked Google Maps into thinking it was a severe traffic jam. Pretty sure the same thing would fool Apple Maps.

Google, in a statement to 9to5Google, responded with good humor:

Traffic data in Google Maps is refreshed continuously thanks to information from a variety of sources, including aggregated anonymized data from people who have location services turned on and contributions from the Google Maps community. We’ve launched the ability to distinguish between cars and motorcycles in several countries including India, Indonesia and Egypt, though we haven’t quite cracked traveling by wagon. We appreciate seeing creative uses of Google Maps like this as it helps us make maps work better over time.

 ★ 


★ It’s Not About Intuitiveness
That’s what makes the state of iPadOS so crushingly disappointing — it has an inherent leg up on MacOS on intuitiveness by nature of its conceptual foundation. The problems with the iPad are about *consistency*, *coherence*, and *discoverability*.

Matt Birchler, “Mistaking Familiarity for Intuitiveness”:

But… this rings so true to me in some of the conversations I’ve had with people over the years, as well as Gruber’s recent complaints about the iPad overall.

What gets me to roll my eyes is when people drift into the “iPads aren’t as intuitive as Macs” argument, because that’s kind of insane.

He doesn’t come out and say that I said Macs are more intuitive than iPads, but it seems close. Let me point out that I used the word “intuitive” only twice in my piece on the awkwardness of iPadOS at 10: both times referring to iOS’s “just tap an app icon to open it” interface.

Most people get maybe 2% of the potential of their Macs and Windows PCs today. Have you watched most people use a computer lately? Most people I see have all apps in full screen all the time, no matter how big their screen is. Most people I see use keyboard shortcuts for copy and paste, opening new tabs, but basically nothing else. I’ve seen numerous Mac users download apps, open the DMG, and run the app from the DMG forever because they don’t know you should move it to the Applications folder. Many people have a desktop full of files because the desktop is the file system.

All true. I strongly believe most people would be better off with iOS as their main computer than MacOS — including most Mac users today. It is a problem that most Mac users just store every file they have on the desktop. There is a huge opportunity on that point alone for iPadOS to surpass MacOS as the superior system for non-experts.

But how many people think iPadOS has a good interface for managing files? Crickets. The Mac interface for managing files is too overwhelming for typical users to understand, but somehow iPadOS offers something worse.

As I have to say in every one of these pieces, I’m not arguing that macOS is trash, nor am I arguing that iPad software is perfect and needs no refinement. I’m just saying that humans have a tendency to mistake familiarity for intuitiveness.

Again, my criticism about iPadOS has little to do with intuitiveness. If anything, what the iPad gets right is clearly more intuitive than the Mac — direct manipulation with touch vs. indirect manipulation via mouse pointer is clearly far more intuitive and natural. That’s what makes the state of iPadOS so crushingly disappointing — it has an inherent leg up on MacOS on intuitiveness by nature of its conceptual foundation. The problems with the iPad are about consistency, coherence, and discoverability. Launching the first on-screen app with a simple tap, but the second on-screen app with a tap-and-hold-then-drag-to-the-side-but-make-sure-you-drag-it-all-the-way-to-the-side-or-else-you’ll-get-Slide-Over is inconsistent, incoherent, and requires unnecessary dexterous precision. iPadOS should be less finicky than MacOS, but all of the multitasking features are the other way around.

And then there’s discoverability. Advanced iPad features are mostly invoked only by gestures — which gestures are not cohesively designed. The Mac is more complex — which is good for experts and would-be experts, but bad for typical users — but its complexity is almost entirely discoverable visually. You just move your mouse around the screen and click on things. That’s how you close any window. That’s how you put any window into or out of full-screen mode.1 Far more of iPadOS should be exposed by visual buttons and on-screen elements that you can look at and simply tap or drag with a single finger.

Affordances are not clutter.


  1. I’ve never been a fan of full-screen mode on MacOS, and split-screen full-screen mode on the Mac is as inscrutable as on the iPad. It’s always felt bolted-on. Even the fact that the menu bar is hidden in full-screen mode is wrong. It’s trying to make the Mac into something contrary to its true nature, simply because many people want the visual simplicity of full-screen apps. Again, this is a huge missed opportunity for iPadOS, where full-screen mode is its true nature. ↩︎


★ The iPad Awkwardly Turns 10
To reach its potential, Apple needs to recognize they have made profound conceptual mistakes in the iPad user interface, mistakes that need to be scrapped and replaced, not polished and refined. I worry that iPadOS 13 suggests the opposite — that Apple is steering the iPad full speed ahead down a blind alley.

Ten years ago today, Steve Jobs introduced the iPad on stage at the Yerba Buena theater in San Francisco. It surprised everyone, in several ways. Some expected a touchscreen Mac with a stylus. Some expected a product that would do for the news industry what the iPod had done for the music industry a decade prior. Most expected a $1,000 starting price. The iPad was none of those things. It was also Jobs’s final big new product announcement.

“It’s just a big iPhone” was the most common initial criticism. Turns out, “just a big iPhone” was a fantastic idea for a new product — music to tens of millions of iPhone users’ ears.

Jobs’s on-stage pitch was exactly right. The iPad was a new class of device, sitting between a phone and a laptop. To succeed, it needed not only to be better at some things than either a phone or laptop, it needed to be much better. It was and is.

Ten years later, though, I don’t think the iPad has come close to living up to its potential. By the time the Mac turned 10, it had redefined multiple industries. In 1984 almost no graphic designers or illustrators were using computers for work. By 1994 almost all graphic designers and illustrators were using computers for work. The Mac was a revolution. The iPhone was a revolution. The iPad has been a spectacular success, and to tens of millions it is a beloved part of their daily lives, but it has, to date, fallen short of revolutionary.

iPad hardware is undeniably great. Lower-priced models are excellent consumer tablets, and are the cheapest personal computers Apple has ever made. They remain perfectly useful for many years. The iPads Pro outperform MacBooks computationally. They’re thin, light, reliable, gorgeous, and yet despite their impressive computational performance they need no fans.

Software is where the iPad has gotten lost. iPadOS’s “multitasking” model is far more capable than the iPhone’s, yes, but somehow Apple has painted it into a corner in which it is far less consistent and coherent than the Mac’s, while also being far less capable. iPad multitasking: more complex, less powerful. That’s quite a combination.

Consider the basic task of putting two apps on screen at the same time, the basic definition of “multitasking” in the UI sense. To launch the first app, you tap its icon on the homescreen, just like on the iPhone, and just like on the iPad before split-screen multitasking. Tapping an icon to open an app is natural and intuitive. But to get a second app on the same screen, you cannot tap its icon. You must first slide up from the bottom of the screen to reveal the Dock. Then you must tap and hold on an app icon in the Dock. Then you drag the app icon out of the Dock to launch it in a way that it will become the second app splitting the display. But isn’t dragging an icon out of the Dock the way that you remove apps from the Dock? Yes, it is — when you do it from the homescreen. So the way you launch an app in the Dock for split-screen mode is identical to the way you remove that app from the Dock. Oh, and apps that aren’t in the Dock can’t become the second app in split screen mode. What sense does that limitation make?

On the iPhone you can only have one app on screen at a time. The screen is the app; the app is the screen. This is limiting but trivial to understand. On the Mac you can have as many apps on screen at the same time as you want, and you launch the second, third, or twentieth app exactly the same way that you launch the first. That is consistency. On iPad you can only have two apps on screen at the same time, and you must launch them in entirely different ways — one of them intuitive (tap any app icon), one of them inscrutable (drag one of the handful of apps you’ve placed in your Dock). And if you don’t quite drag the app from the Dock far enough to the side of the screen, it launches in “Slide Over”, an entirely different shared-screen rather than split-screen mode. The whole concept is not merely inconsistent, it’s incoherent.

How would anyone ever figure out how to split-screen multitask on the iPad if they didn’t already know how to do it?

On the iPhone, you always launch apps the same way: tapping their icons. On the Mac, it’s slightly more complex. In most contexts — the Dock, LaunchPad, Spotlight results — you launch apps by single-clicking them; in the Finder, however, you must double-click them. There’s a method to that seeming madness — you must double-click to open something on the Mac in any context where single-clicking will merely select that item. But the Mac’s “When do I click, when do I double-click?” issue has confused untold millions of non-expert users for decades. How many people have you seen who double-click links in a web browser? The iPhone’s simplicity eliminated this sort of confusion. No one needlessly double-taps tappable items on iPhone. The iPad, originally, shared this simplicity and clarity. When the iPad debuted it was, from top to bottom, easier to understand than the Mac, and you could learn everything there was to learn about it just by tapping and sliding to explore. It was impossible to get lost or confused.

As things stand today, I get a phone call from my mom once a month or so because she’s accidentally gotten Safari into split-screen mode when tapping links in Mail or Messages and can’t get out.

I like my iPad very much, and use it almost every day. But if I could go back to the pre-split-screen, pre-drag-and-drop interface I would. Which is to say, now that iPadOS has its own name, I wish I could install the iPhone’s one-app-on-screen-at-a-time, no-drag-and-drop iOS on my iPad Pro. I’d do it in a heartbeat and be much happier for it.

The iPad at 10 is, to me, a grave disappointment. Not because it’s “bad”, because it’s not bad — it’s great even — but because great though it is in so many ways, overall it has fallen so far short of the grand potential it showed on day one. To reach that potential, Apple needs to recognize they have made profound conceptual mistakes in the iPad user interface, mistakes that need to be scrapped and replaced, not polished and refined. I worry that iPadOS 13 suggests the opposite — that Apple is steering the iPad full speed ahead down a blind alley.


★ Hacked to Bits
I take it back, this is not the pitch for a movie. It’s the pitch for a season-long TV series.

Another blockbuster security story last week, initially broken by Stephanie Kirchgaessner for The Guardian:

The Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos had his mobile phone “hacked” in 2018 after receiving a WhatsApp message that had apparently been sent from the personal account of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, sources have told the Guardian.

The encrypted message from the number used by Mohammed bin Salman is believed to have included a malicious file that infiltrated the phone of the world’s richest man, according to the results of a digital forensic analysis.

This analysis found it “highly probable” that the intrusion into the phone was triggered by an infected video file sent from the account of the Saudi heir to Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post.

The two men had been having a seemingly friendly WhatsApp exchange when, on 1 May of that year, the unsolicited file was sent, according to sources who spoke to the Guardian on the condition of anonymity.

Large amounts of data were exfiltrated from Bezos’s phone within hours, according to a person familiar with the matter. The Guardian has no knowledge of what was taken from the phone or how it was used.

You will recall that The National Enquirer published intimate text messages and personal photographs from Bezos that revealed an extramarital affair, which in turn led to Bezos and his wife of 25 years divorcing.

Bezos unsurprisingly launched his own investigation into how the text messages and photos had been stolen from his phone and wound up in the hands of the Enquirer. According to Bezos’s team, early evidence pointed to Saudi Arabia. That Bezos’s investigators had evidence pointing to the Saudis spooked Enquirer publisher David Pecker enough that Pecker literally attempted to extort Bezos — offering not to publish additional photos in the Enquirer’s possession in exchange for Bezos dropping his investigation. Needless to say, Bezos told Pecker to fuck off, in a remarkably cogent open letter publicly revealing both the extortion scheme and Bezos’s investigative team’s suspicion that the Saudis were the culprits.1

At the time, there was much speculation as to how the Saudis hacked Bezos’s phone. Did they have agents intercepting his cellular signal? Technically possible, perhaps, especially if the text messages were SMS (we still don’t know what type of “texts” they were — we now know Bezos and MBS texted via WhatsApp, but we don’t know how Bezos and his girlfriend texted), but if the Saudis had in fact captured the information over the air, how would Bezos’s investigators ever have detected it months after the fact?

Now, we seemingly know. Bezos had a personal relationship with MBS and MBS personally sent Bezos the payload to exploit his phone. The evidence is strong enough and the allegations serious enough that the United Nations has issued a report on the matter, considers it part of a pattern of human rights violations from the Saudi regime, and is calling for the United States to further investigate.

But — but! — two days ago, The Wall Street Journal reported that federal prosecutors in Manhattan have evidence that The National Enquirer obtained the photos from Lauren Sanchez’s brother, who in turn was sent them from his sister’s phone. Whether Lauren Sanchez sent them to her brother, or her brother had access to her phone and sent them to his phone from her phone himself, is unclear, but the fact that Bezos and Sanchez are still together suggests Bezos believes the latter. It seems entirely possible that the Saudis pwned Bezos’s phone but that it was his girlfriend’s brother who betrayed them to The Enquirer. Or, more conspiratorially, perhaps her brother — a prominent Trump supporter with ties to the recently convicted felon and Trump advisor Roger Stone, a man who describes himself as a “dirty trickster” — was in cahoots with the Saudis and the Enquirer to cover their tracks.

This whole saga is extraordinary to say the least. With zero hyperbole, it sounds like the pitch for a Hollywood thriller:

The richest man in the world — a billionaire a hundred times over — meets and exchanges phone numbers with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, the most powerful dictator in the Middle East. The richest man in the world happens to own, as a mere side business, The Washington Post — a newspaper whose news coverage and opinion columns have been highly critical of the Saudi Arabian royal family’s brutal and regressive regime. The crown prince uses this superficial personal relationship with the richest man in the world to hack his phone via an infected attachment sent in a WhatsApp chat, using military-grade technology seemingly created by NSO Group, a secretive firm from Israel that supposedly only offers its services to trusted governments. Among the information the Saudis exfiltrate from the richest man in the world’s phone are text messages and intimate photos revealing an extramarital affair, which wind up published in The National Enquirer, whose publisher has long been a trusted confidant of the corrupt president of the United States, and had a stack of scandalous stories regarding said corrupt president’s own extra-marital affairs locked in a safe as part of a decades-long conspiracy to keep those scandals out of the public eye. Said corrupt president of the United States is also a vociferous critic of The Washington Post and its owner, the richest man in the world. The publication of these intimate texts and photos leads to the dissolution of the richest man in the world’s 25-year marriage, and unsurprisingly angers him, leading him to hire a team of investigators to figure out how the texts and images from his phone were stolen. A few months later a team of Saudi agents brutally murders and dismembers Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi — who was — wait for it — a journalist at The Washington Post whose columns were scathingly critical of the Saudi regime. The CIA soon determines that the Saudi hit team was acting at the direct behest of the crown prince; when informed of this, the corrupt president of the United States brushes it off with a more-or-less “Shit happens, what do you expect when you criticize our friends the Saudis? Those guys play hardball.” response.

Oh. And the corrupt president of the United States is also a nepotist. His son-in-law is a senior White House advisor with a sprawling portfolio of responsibilities, a top-secret security clearance that was granted only because the president demanded it (overriding concerns of national security officials). Said son-in-law is known to communicate with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia via — wait for it — WhatsApp.2

I take it back, this is not the pitch for a movie. It’s the pitch for a season-long TV series. My proposed title: Hacked to Bits.


  1. Bezos, in his 2017 letter to shareholders: “We don’t do PowerPoint (or any other slide-oriented) presentations at Amazon. Instead, we write narratively structured six-page memos. We silently read one at the beginning of each meeting in a kind of ‘study hall.’ ”

    The idea is that lazy thinking, if not outright sophistry, is easily disguised within slide decks, but narrative prose — not bullet points but a real narrative — forces the writer to think everything through. Writing is thinking, I’ve always thought, too. I frequently start a column thinking my argument is A, but as I write, I realize I was wrong and in fact my argument is Z. It’s the act of writing that forces you to think the idea through right down to the bedrock. Anyway, Bezos’s open letter revealing the Enquirer’s scheme and his suspicion that the Saudis were the culprits shows that, unsurprisingly, he’s a remarkably cogent writer. Reminds me of someone else↩︎

  2. I actually think it’s unlikely that MBS hacked Kushner’s phone. Think about it. The hack of Bezos’s phone was eventually uncovered. If he hacked Kushner, it would have come out eventually too. Trump is embarrassingly cozy with the Saudis, but he would surely be furious if it were revealed the Saudis hacked Kushner’s phone. However useful hacking Kushner’s phone would be to their intelligence gathering, it couldn’t possibly be worth spoiling their relationship with Trump. Killing and dismembering a journalist working for The Washington Post ought to outrage the president. Hacking the phone of an American citizen — any American, prince or pauper — ought to outrage the president. But hacking the phone of someone in his family actually would. Trump’s strident antipathy toward Bezos effectively served as a free pass for the Saudis to hack his phone. That the United Nations is more outraged than the United States says it all.

    But, still, the fact that it’s even possible that MBS did the same thing to Kushner that he did to Bezos — combined with the fact that security officials in the U.S. were alarmed by Kushner’s use of WhatsApp all along — is deeply concerning, to say the least. ↩︎︎


★ Regarding Reuters’s Report That Apple Dropped Plan for Encrypting iCloud Backups
This isn’t about Apple foiling law enforcement. It isn’t about Apple helping criminals. It’s about Apple enabling its customers to own and control their own data.

Blockbuster report by Joseph Menn for Reuters:

Apple Inc. dropped plans to let iPhone users fully encrypt backups of their devices in the company’s iCloud service after the FBI complained that the move would harm investigations, six sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The tech giant’s reversal, about two years ago, has not previously been reported. It shows how much Apple has been willing to help U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies, despite taking a harder line in high-profile legal disputes with the government and casting itself as a defender of its customers’ information.

I want to go deep on this, because, if true, it’s staggering, heartbreaking news. Go read Menn’s entire report. I’ll wait.

OK. First, Reuters’ headline — “Apple Dropped Plan for Encrypting Backups After FBI Complained” — is missing one essential word: iCloud. For at least the last decade, Apple has offered truly secure encrypted local backups of iOS devices, using iTunes on a Mac or PC. (Starting with MacOS 10.15 Catalina, this feature is now in the Finder.) With encrypted local backups, if you don’t have the passphrase used to encrypt the backup, no one, including Apple, can access the backup data. (Local backups to your Mac or PC are not encrypted by default — more on this below — and non-encrypted local backups therefore omit sensitive data like your passwords.)

It’s essential that Apple still supports local backups, for many reasons, but for most iPhone and iPad users it’s irrelevant, because they never connect their devices to a Mac or PC, and the overwhelming majority of them surely have no idea that the feature even exists. iCloud backups are the only backups most iOS users ever use, and it is a fact that there is no option to truly encrypt them.

This fact has been, to me, a bit of a head-scratcher for the last few years — it’s the one gaping hole in Apple’s commitment to cryptographically-guaranteed privacy for its customers.1

In fact, it’s so contrary to Apple’s stance as The Privacy Company that I’ve already heard from several tech-savvy users today, in the wake of Reuters’s report, that they had assumed until now that their iCloud backups were encrypted.

The bottom line is that iCloud backups are not end-to-end encrypted, but should be, at least optionally. Menn’s report for Reuters suggests the reason they’re not is that Apple bowed to requests from the FBI. I do not believe his report is entirely correct. Menn writes:

More than two years ago, Apple told the FBI that it planned to offer users end-to-end encryption when storing their phone data on iCloud, according to one current and three former FBI officials and one current and one former Apple employee.

Under that plan, primarily designed to thwart hackers, Apple would no longer have a key to unlock the encrypted data, meaning it would not be able to turn material over to authorities in a readable form even under court order.

In private talks with Apple soon after, representatives of the FBI’s cyber crime agents and its operational technology division objected to the plan, arguing it would deny them the most effective means for gaining evidence against iPhone-using suspects, the government sources said.

When Apple spoke privately to the FBI about its work on phone security the following year, the end-to-end encryption plan had been dropped, according to the six sources. Reuters could not determine why exactly Apple dropped the plan.

Menn is a solid reporter and I have no reason to doubt what he is reporting. What I suspect though, based on (a) everything we all know about Apple, and (b) my own private conversations over the last several years, with rank-and-file Apple sources who’ve been directly involved with the company’s security engineering, is that Menn’s sources for the “Apple told the FBI that it planned to offer users end-to-end encryption when storing their phone data on iCloud” bit were the FBI sources, not the Apple sources, and that it is not accurate.

It simply is not in Apple’s nature to tell anyone outside the company about any of its future product plans. I’m not sure how I could make that more clear. It is not in Apple’s DNA to ask permission for anything. (Cf. the theory that a company’s culture is permanently shaped by the personality of its founders.)

Encrypting iCloud backups would be perfectly legal. There would be no legal requirement for Apple to brief the FBI ahead of time. Nor would there be any reason to brief the FBI ahead of time just to get the FBI’s opinion on the idea. We all know what the FBI thinks about strong encryption. How would this supposed conversation have gone down?

FBI Official: So, what brings you here?

Apple Representative: Well, we’re thinking about offering encrypted iCloud backups, such that only the user would hold the keys.

FBI Official: ——

Apple Representative: And, uh, we were wondering what you folks thought about that.

FBI Official: Is this a joke?

I would find it less surprising to know that Apple acquiesced to the FBI’s request not to allow encrypted iCloud backups than that Apple briefed the FBI about such a plan before it was put in place.

I’ll take as fact all of the following, based on Menn’s report and common sense:

  1. Apple had and perhaps still has a plan to encrypt iCloud backups in a way that only the user controls the keys. I.e. that without the backup passphrase, there would be no way for Apple to access the data contained in the backup.

  2. The FBI has requested that Apple not offer encrypted iCloud backups. I would be surprised if the FBI does not reiterate its stance on this issue whenever they meet with Apple regarding security matters. Apple might never have mentioned a plan to encrypt iCloud backups, but the FBI isn’t stupid. It has surely occurred to anyone who has followed Apple’s progress on security — which to date has only ever moved in the direction of providing customers with more cryptographically-guaranteed privacy — that encrypted iCloud backups are something the company has at the very least considered.

  3. Apple cancelled or postponed its plan to offer encrypted iCloud backups.

It does not necessarily follow that #3 is the result of #2.

It could be the reason, but there are several other logical explanations. It’s a subtle point, but the “due to” in VentureBeat’s headline on Reuter’s syndicated report — “Apple’s iCloud Backups Are Unencrypted Due to Law Enforcement Pressure” — is not justified by the reporting. (Reuters’s original headline uses “after”.)

I’ll repeat the last line of the previous quote from Menn’s report:

Reuters could not determine why exactly Apple dropped the plan.

Dueling sources follow:

“Legal killed it, for reasons you can imagine,” another former Apple employee said he was told, without any specific mention of why the plan was dropped or if the FBI was a factor in the decision.

That person told Reuters the company did not want to risk being attacked by public officials for protecting criminals, sued for moving previously accessible data out of reach of government agencies or used as an excuse for new legislation against encryption.

“They decided they weren’t going to poke the bear anymore,” the person said, referring to Apple’s court battle with the FBI in 2016 over access to an iPhone used by one of the suspects in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

If that is the case — that Apple’s legal department killed the project to avoid “poking the bear” — then it’s ultimately irrelevant whether Apple briefed the FBI in advance or not. It’s acquiescence, and users will be left unprotected. Not just in the U.S., where the FBI has jurisdiction, but everywhere in the world where encryption is legal.

Menn’s FBI sources clearly think that’s the case:

Two of the former FBI officials, who were not present in talks with Apple, told Reuters it appeared that the FBI’s arguments that the backups provided vital evidence in thousands of cases had prevailed.

“It’s because Apple was convinced,” said one. “Outside of that public spat over San Bernardino, Apple gets along with the federal government.”

What else could it be? This:

However, a former Apple employee said it was possible the encryption project was dropped for other reasons, such as concern that more customers would find themselves locked out of their data more often.

That’s a key point. Surely there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of people every day who need to access their iCloud backups who do not remember their password. The fact that Apple can help them is a benefit to those users. That’s why I would endorse following the way local iTunes device backups work: make encryption an option, with a clear warning that if you lose your backup password, no one, including Apple, will be able to restore your data. I would be surprised if Apple’s plan for encrypted iCloud backups were not exactly that.

Buried deep in the article is, to me, the most alarming aspect of Menn’s report:

Once the decision was made, the 10 or so experts on the Apple encryption project — variously code-named Plesio and KeyDrop — were told to stop working on the effort, three people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating — let’s see what Apple actually does. Reuters’s report notwithstanding, I would not be surprised if end-to-end encrypted iCloud backups are forthcoming. This should be at the top of our list of hoped-for features at WWDC 2020.

This isn’t about Apple foiling law enforcement. It isn’t about Apple helping criminals. It’s about Apple enabling its customers to own and control their own data. As things stand, if you use iCloud backup, you do not own and control the data therein.


  1. Email is another gaping hole. But that’s how email works everywhere — it’s inherently insecure by design. Read this 2013 piece by Geoff Duncan for a cogent explanation. ↩︎