October 31, 2014

Wired:

The Baltimore Wastewater Treatment Plant put out a call for “extreme spider” help in 2009, when a giant spiderweb covered almost 4 acres of their facility. Scientists eventually estimated over 107 million spiders were living in the structure, with densities of 35,176 spiders per m³ in spots.

In honour of Halloween, I’m going to leave this right here for you. Thanks to Brian Webster for the link.

Wall Street Journal:

Ive told an audience at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Thursday night that designing the smartwatch posed more challenges than the iPhone because of societal expectations around a wristwatch. The wrist, he said, is an ideal place for “lightweight interactions” and “casual glancing,” but not for heavy reading.

“Even though Apple Watch does so many things, there are cultural, historical implications and expectations,” Ive said. “That’s why it’s been such a difficult and humbling program.”

It’s obvious Apple has thought long and hard about that last sentence and maybe that’s why the Apple Watch will be more successful (although, that’s damning with faint praise) than other company’s offerings.

CurrentC and antitrust implications

There’s been a lot of discussion about the legal implications of the recent move by CVS and Rite Aid to drop support for Apple Pay. This quote from a Reuters article clarified the point:

Antitrust experts said CVS and Rite Aid have the right to drop a vendor if they believe they can save money by going around the credit card companies and Apple, both of which will take a piece of the action.

But they could run into antitrust trouble if they coordinated on dropping Apple Pay and Google Wallet or if someone else, perhaps a person working with CurrentC, organized their decision to drop Apple and Google’s payment services.

“If I was a regulator, I would want to take a look at that,” said Peter Carstensen, who teaches antitrust at the University of Wisconsin Law School.

As I read this, antitrust would be an issue if a requirement was placed on CVS, Rite Aid, and other members of the MCX consortium to drop support for Apple Pay. In other words, no problem if CVS and Rite Aid independently decided to drop Apple Pay support.

But is that what happened here? What caused them both to drop Apple Pay? Was it a contractual requirement? Was there an email that went out from MCX to the exchange merchants laying out some rule requiring them to block Apple Pay?

Want to ask Mark Zuckerberg a question? In a move taken from the Reddit Ask-Me-Anything playbook, Zuckerberg has launched a Facebook page designed to field and vote on questions.

On Thursday, November 6 at 2pm PT, Zuckerberg will respond, via live video stream, to the most up-voted questions. The event will last about an hour.

Earlier this week, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed a far reaching rule change (detailed in this blog post) that would level the playing field and give non-traditional video suppliers access to programming that is currently only available to cable and satellite providers.

Back in 1992, the satellite TV industry was new and floundering because they didn’t have access to the same programming is the cable companies. In response, the FCC passed the Communications Act.

In Title VI of the Communications Act, Congress created rules to ensure that cable companies that own video content can’t raise artificial barriers to competition by refusing to let their video competitors have access to the programming they own. That worked for satellite providers, and also helped telephone companies entering the video business.

The new rule would allow companies that distribute TV/cable programming over the internet, so-called over-the-top suppliers (OTTs), access to that same programming. And that’s where Apple could come in. In this excellent piece for Seeking Alpha (free reg wall), Mark Hibben writes:

Wheeler’s proposal is a recognition of a simple fact: the Internet is the future of content delivery, any content, including video. Wheeler recognizes that most cable companies have become high-speed Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and many are converting to Internet Protocol delivery of their video content as well.

How is this over the top distribution different from Apple TV, Chromecast, Xbox, and other plug-in devices that put web-enabled programming on your TV? There’s this:

iTunes could become a central hub for all iOS content, able to stream purchased, rented, subscription and “free” network TV content. All it takes is infrastructure, and Apple has plenty of that, and the capability to build and acquire more. Under this scenario, you would be able to watch a live TV event, such as the Super Bowl, anywhere on your iPhone or iPad. For a nominal fee, of course.

And this:

I think Apple still needs a discriminator to set it apart from the pack of Internet-connected smart TVs. The most important discriminator that Apple can offer is some enhanced level of iOS capability. Of course, Apple TV and any future Apple television will be based on iOS, but future Apple television products need to offer greater access to iOS apps and games than the current Apple TV does.

There’s a lot to chew on in this FCC blog post. The new rule change needs to be fleshed out and the terms clarified. But no matter how it plays out, this seems a huge opportunity for Apple and a boon to consumers.

October 30, 2014

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta 2014 – Timelapse Short Film from Knate Myers on Vimeo.

Vimeo:

Every year the city of Albuquerque host the largest hot air balloon event in the world, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

This festival is on my “Great Places to Shoot Photos” bucket list.

Ars Technica:

Last week three men filed a class action lawsuit in Northern California District Court alleging that Apple’s 2011 MacBook Pro laptops were defective and that Apple did not take proper steps to compensate customers whose hardware broke.

The lawsuit specifically addresses 15” and 17” MacBook Pros from 2011, which the plaintiffs claim suffered from “random bouts of graphical distortion, system instability, and system failures.” The plaintiffs also assert that the problem is widespread, with an online survey conducted by the plaintiffs receiving over 3,000 responses from 2011 MacBook Pro owners in a single week.

As someone who has one of these affected machines and has already had one logic board failure attributed to it, I’m going to follow this closely.

Bon Appetit:

Think about your usual supermarket routine. Chances are, if your market is designed like the majority in the U.S., you start shopping at the right side of the store and work your way around the outer rim of the supermarket—with occasional forays into certain aisles, but generally sticking to a counterclockwise route till you get to the register.

Now you may wonder, Why do I always choose to go that way?

The answer is, you don’t.

These stories of how we are subtly (and sometimes, not subtly) manipulated in these situations are always fascinating to me. Similar psychology is going on in casinos, too.

From IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone sales tracking report:

On Apple:

Apple took the wraps off its highly anticipated iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, and in the process posted its largest third-quarter volume ever. Although the company posted strong results of 10 million units sold during its initial launch weekend, what should not be overlooked is the sustained demand for its older iPhone 5S and 5C models, which comprised the bulk of its volume for the quarter.

On Xiaomi:

Xiaomi jumped into the top 5 list for the first time at the number 3 position thanks to its focus on China and adjacent markets, which resulted in triple-digit year-over-year growth. Key to its success was the launch of its Mi4 smartphone in August, which was positioned as a high-end alternative to the status quo. What remains to be seen is how quickly the company can move beyond its home territories to drive volumes higher.

On Samsung:

Samsung remained the clear leader in the worldwide smartphone market, but was the only company among the top five to see its shipment volume decline year over year. With continued competitive pressure from nearly every side coupled with cooling demand for its high-end devices, the company’s volumes have fallen from their previous highs at the start of the year. Although Samsung has long relied on its high-end devices, its mid-range and low-end models drove volume for the quarter and subsequently drove down ASPs [Average selling price].

From the New York Times:

Samsung Electronics Co Ltd saw its July-September quarterly profit fall to the lowest level in more than three years, as a decline in earnings from its smartphone business set the South Korean giant on track for its worst year since 2011.

The global smartphone leader has lost market share in annual terms for the past two quarters, lagging behind Apple Inc in the premium market and overtaken by rivals like Lenovo Group Ltd and Xiaomi Inc at the bottom end.

Tim Cook posted an essay in Bloomberg Businessweek this morning saying, in a nutshell, that he’s proud to be gay and felt it was important to make this public statement. As might be expected, Cook spoke with the Apple Board before releasing the essay.

Why take this step? In Cook’s words:

I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others. So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.

Here’s a link to the essay.

And here’s a thoughtful video interview with Bloomberg Businessweek editor Josh Tyrangiel, in which he discusses being approached by Cook to tell his story.

October 29, 2014

Much respect to all the participants of the 2014 World Beard and Mustache Championships. But holy shit, that neck beard is scary as shit.

It’s fascinating to see that people in different parts of the world get things so wrong about their own country.

[Via NextDraft]

From the main MCX FAQ:

On the data security side, the technology choices we’ve made take consumers’ security into account at every aspect of their core functionality.

And from this MCX blog post:

Within the last 36 hours, we learned that unauthorized third parties obtained the e-mail addresses of some of our CurrentC pilot program participants and individuals who had expressed interest in the app. Many of these email addresses are dummy accounts used for testing purposes only. The CurrentC app itself was not affected.

We have notified our merchant partners about this incident and directly communicated with each of the individuals whose email addresses were involved. We take the security of our users’ information extremely seriously. MCX is continuing to investigate this situation and will provide updates as necessary.

You can’t make this stuff up. (via MacRumors)

Apple VP Greg Joswiak discusses market share and lessons learned with Walt Mossberg and Ina Fried at the Code/Mobile conference. Joswiak is certainly deft here, fielding questions both thoughtful and snarky. Worth watching.

International Space Station resupply rocket explodes shortly after launch

An Orbital Sciences unmanned Antares rocket taking supplies to the International Space Station exploded shortly after launch last night.

From the Orbital Sciences mission update page:

Orbital Sciences Corporation confirms that today’s Antares rocket launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility was not successful. Shortly after lift-off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A at 6:22 p.m. (EDT), the vehicle suffered a catastrophic failure. According to NASA’s emergency operations officials, there were no casualties and property damage was limited to the south end of Wallops Island. Orbital has formed an anomaly investigation board, which will work in close coordination with all appropriate government agencies, to determine the cause of today’s mishap.

“It is far too early to know the details of what happened,” said Mr. Frank Culbertson, Orbital’s Executive Vice President and General Manager of its Advanced Programs Group.“As we begin to gather information, our primary concern lies with the ongoing safety and security of those involved in our response and recovery operations. We will conduct a thorough investigation immediately to determine the cause of this failure and what steps can be taken to avoid a repeat of this incident. As soon as we understand the cause we will begin the necessary work to return to flight to support our customers and the nation’s space program.”

Best of luck to the team. I hope they can pinpoint the exact cause and share lessons learned. Chin up. Onward and upward.

The Verge:

Hugo Barra was once the public face of Google’s Android division, but today he sounds more impressed by Apple. Speaking at WSJD Live today, Barra — who is now vice president for international for Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi — was effusive in his praise for Apple’s latest devices. The iPhone 6, he said, is “the most beautiful smartphone ever built.” Barra’s comments came in response to a question about the persistent criticism that 4-year-old Xiaomi’s rise has been fueled by blatant copying of designs from Apple and others, an issue that Jony Ive raised again at an event earlier this month. “Our designers, our engineers are inspired by great products — and frankly, in today’s world, who isn’t? Point me to a product in our industry that has completely unique design language. You’re not going to be able to find one.”

Um, the original iPhone?

Karen Webster, writing for Pymnts.com:

Something CurrentC also doesn’t blab about, but is a well-known fact throughout payments-land, is that its contracts strictly prohibit its member merchants from accepting any other form of in store mobile payments scheme outside of its own. I would imagine that over the last two years, that’s probably led to more than one scary conversation between the “just-keep-my-cost-of-acceptance-low” Corporate Treasury folks and the “I-want-to-just-sell-more-stuff-in-my-stores-and-accommodate-my-customer’s-payments-preferences” marketing and merchandising folks when presented with compelling mobile payments schemes. Until Apple Pay, which has generated all sorts of hype and media attention, its member merchants probably felt that they weren’t too missing out on much since it wasn’t like its customers were walking into those stores asking to use a mobile payments scheme and were denied the opportunity.

Until last week.

And:

You don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to figure out that the abrupt about face at Rite Aid and CVS, CurrentC merchants, was the result of some sort of disconnect between the marketing peeps wanting to offer Apple Pay and the finance/treasury folks that signed the contracts a few years ago that said they couldn’t.

And, seriously folks, say what you will about Apple Pay and its long term prospects as a viable mobile payments scheme, but the spin about security concerns and data privacy concerns is not only spin, it’s not even believable spin given all that we know about Apple Pay and its security and privacy protocols.

And this, from the New York Times:

The problem is that under the terms of their MCX contractual agreement, they are not supposed to accept competing mobile payments products like Apple Pay, according to multiple retailers involved with MCX, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. If these retailers break their contracts, they will face steep fines for doing so, these people said.

If true (and it sure seems to be), this behavior is unconscionable. When the FTC has a moment free from their pursuit of AT&T, perhaps they’ll look into this. Feels like unfair trade practices to me.

[Hat tip to Stephen Tallent]

UPDATE: Upon reflection, and a lot of discussion, there certainly is plenty of precedent for MCX prohibiting Apple Pay. I think what rankles me here is the apparent lack of transparency. But even that might be constrained by an NDA. Hard to fault CVS, RiteAid, et al, for not being up front about a clause in their contract if the contract itself contains a non-disclosure provision. I can only imagine that this is the case, given the lack of publicly available information on MCX terms and conditions.

That said, any company that signs a deal like this, especially for a pig-in-a-poke restrictive system that does not yet exist, deserves what they get. My 2 cents.

October 28, 2014

iMore:

Just as quickly as CurrentC popped into the limelight, questions arose around the companies intentions. Even though I don’t have an invite for CurrentC’s invite-only mobile payments and loyalty rewards system, I decided to take a look. I posted some initial findings on Twitter and a brief summary on iMore, but wanted to do a more in-depth technical post for anybody who was curious.

Hard to believe this is going to actually go anywhere even if it does get released as expected next year.

Neil Young “Old Man”

This is one of my all-time favorite songs. I had no idea this is what it was about though.

This app allows you to change the pitch of a song, get the chords, slow down a song and much more. I’ve been using it for a while and really like it.

New in this version:

  • View your calendar and event list in Notification Center with Fantastical’s Today widget
  • Quickly create events or reminders from selected text in extension-enabled apps with Fantastical’s app extension
  • Interactive notifications let you quickly snooze an alert or complete a reminder
  • Enhanced landscape view shows your event list when using iPhone 6 Plus

I love Fantastical—I have it on all of my devices.

This is a very interesting update from Rogue Amoeba if you’re using iOS 8.1 and Yosemite.

Terrific review of the Retina 5K iMac, both in text and in a well crafted video. Trying hard to resist the urge to order one right this second.

Yesterday’s opening day of the Wall Street Journal’s WSJDLive conference featured separate interviews of Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma and Apple CEO Tim Cook. Alibaba operates a series of consumer-to-consumer, business-to-consumer and business-to-business web portals, generating $120 billion+ in annual revenue. Clearly a terrific opportunity for Apple Pay.

During Jack Ma’s interview, he was asked about Apple Pay:

“I’m very interested in that,” Ma, founder of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (BABA:US), said when asked if it made sense for his company’s Alipay Wallet mobile system to team with Apple Pay. “As always, a good marriage needs both sides hard working. I respect Apple and respect Tim very, very much.”

And during Tim Cook’s interview:

“We’re going to talk about getting married later this week,” said Cook, chief executive officer of Apple Inc. “I love what he’s done, I think he’s a brilliant guy. I think he has brilliant people at the company so if we can find some areas of common space, I love it. I love partnering with people like that.”

Long way from a deal, but still, interesting.

Back in October of 1994, the two founders of Wired magazine, Louis Rossetto and Jane Metcalfe, found themselves in a unique situation. One of their biggest advertisers, AT&T, was interested in expanding their presence from print to the web. Now all Louis and Jane had to do was figure out how to make that happen.

Terrific read.

Business Insider asked a Walmart PR representative why Walmart does not support Apple Pay. Here’s the response:

There are certainly a lot of compelling technologies being developed, which is great for the mobile-commerce industry as a whole. Ultimately, what matters is that consumers have a payment option that is widely accepted, secure, and developed with their best interests in mind. MCX member merchants already collectively serve a majority of Americans every day. MCX’s members believe merchants are in the best position to provide a mobile solution because of their deep insights into their customers’ shopping and buying experiences.

Deep insights? Yeesh. If you care so much about consumers, give them every possible payment option. Instead, the MCX approach is simply a bald-faced attempt to eliminate credit card fees. This response simply makes me angry.

I’m truly surprised to see CVS and Rite-Aid side with Walmart and Hobby Lobby on this one. A black eye for both chains, as far as I’m concerned.

October 27, 2014

Vimeo:

Paris & NY, like many large cities, have a lot in common ; transport, infrastructure, national monuments. I wanted to explore not only these comparisons but also the differences, in order to expose the beauty and individuality of each. What you cannot deny is the vibrancy and explosion of character each city has and I thought split-screen with timelapse would be a good way to help convey this.

Turns out, it’s an ad for British Airways but it’s still a fun thing to watch especially when you consider the effort that had to go into pre- and post-production.

But does he cheat a little bit at the end with the “LOVE” sculpture? Isn’t that in Philadelphia?

On this week’s Amplified, Jim and Shawn talk about the new iPad Air 2, the iPad mini 3 and does Apple offer too many iPads for sale?

Sponsored by lynda.com (Start learning something new by visiting lynda.com/thebeard and get a FREE 7-day trial where you can access all of their 2,400+ courses).

Pixelmator for iPad is a powerful image editor that gives you everything you need to create, edit, and enhance your images. It lets you work seamlessly between Mac and iPad and even work effortlessly with Photoshop images. Packed with powerful creative tools and engineered to harness the full iOS and 64-bit architecture power, Pixelmator for iPad is a real image editor right at your fingertips.

On the brewing battle between Apple Pay and CurrentC

There’s a major battle brewing in the payments industry. On one side, Apple Pay sits on top of the existing credit card model, adding a layer of anonymizing security and ease of use.

On the other side is CurrentC, the brainchild of a consortium called the Merchant Customer Exchange, or MCX. CurrentC seeks to eliminate the credit card companies, and their fees, from the system. CurrentC is an alternative to credit cards, not an add-on.

There are several core issues here.

First, there’s the mechanics of the system. With Apple Pay, you place your phone near an NFC sensor, then touch TouchID to validate the purchase. With CurrentC, you first have to unlock your phone, launch the CurrentC app, wait for it to generate a QR code which you place in front of the scanner. You then enter a pin code to complete the process.

In stores, Apple Pay requires an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus and a merchant with an NFC terminal. CurrentC won’t be available before next year, but will work with existing merchant equipment, whereas Apple Pay will require merchants that don’t have the proper terminals to upgrade.

Both Apple Pay and CurrentC are backed by powerful market forces. Apple Pay is backed by Apple, of course, as well as most banks and credit card companies and a long list of merchants. CurrentC is opposed by the credit card companies, since the goal of the Merchant Customer Exchange is to completely eliminate credit card swiping fees from the equation. According the New York Times, the Merchant Customer Exchange represents more than a trillion dollars in sales which, if my math is right, would eliminate more than $20 billion in credit card fees.

Those savings are certainly a big motivation. Another is the loss of customer data. Apple Pay is, in some respects, anonymous. From Bloomberg:

Here’s what Panera ultimately wants from its participation in any mobile-payments system: a speedier link to the MyPanera Rewards loyalty program, which is used in half of all purchases. When a customer pays now, she either hands over her loyalty card or tells the cashier her phone number. Mobile payments should be able remove that step.

Apple Pay, with its built-in anonymity, won’t eliminate the need to swipe a loyalty card or give the cashier a phone number. ”Obviously, that’s not where we want to be,” says Blaine Hurst, Panera’s executive vice president for technology and transformation. “Why can’t I just walk up to a cashier with my phone and all that information magically appears?”

Harvesting customer data is a two edged sword, with privacy concerns on one side, and loyalty benefits, more focused service on the other. Apple Pay does not prevent the use of loyalty cards and the like, but it does not build that data in. If Apple can find a way to allow the customer to fold that information in to the Apple Pay stream if they choose to, that will eliminate that issue.