“Facebook’s own employees worried they were bamboozling children”

Nathan Halverson, Reveal News (via DF):

A trove of hidden documents detailing how Facebook made money off children will be made public, a federal judge ruled late Monday in response to requests from Reveal.

A glimpse into the soon-to-be-released records shows Facebook’s own employees worried they were bamboozling children who racked up hundreds, and sometimes even thousands, of dollars in game charges. And the company failed to provide an effective way for unsuspecting parents to dispute the massive charges, according to internal Facebook records.

And:

When the bill came, his mom requested Facebook refund the money, saying she never authorized any charges beyond the original $20. But the company never refunded any money, forcing the family to file a lawsuit in pursuit of a refund.

And:

In one of the unsealed documents, two Facebook employees deny a refund request from a child whom they refer to as a “whale” – a term coined by the casino industry to describe profligate spenders. The child had entered a credit card number to play a game, and in about two weeks racked up thousands of dollars in charges, according to an excerpt of messages between two employees at the social media giant.

It’s like letting a child into a Vegas casino with their parents’ credit card, then sending the parent into a maze of twisty passages if they wanted a refund. This whole thing is awful.

The secret behind the Spider-Verse look

FXGuide:

The film’s genus lies in two key choices: firstly, the film makers did not hide away from the fact that there have been so many different tellings of the Spider-Man story previously, but rather embraced it. Secondly, they designed an original comic book visual style unlike any other film. Together these elements have been perfectly combined to produce a surprisingly original film that delivers the most inventive visuals seen this year.

This is amazingly informative. Each section of the article starts with a panel that shows off a specific technique, then digs into what went into making that look so compelling.

What a great movie.

[H/T @brisance]

Next up for Apple Watch? Stroke detection.

Edward C. Baig, USA Today:

Apple and Johnson & Johnson are teaming up on a study to determine whether the latest Apple Watch, in conjunction with an app from the pharmaceutical company, can accelerate the diagnosis of a leading cause of stroke.

Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is an irregular and often rapid heart rate that causes about 130,000 deaths and 750,000 hospitalizations each year in the U.S., Johnson & Johnson said. Up to 30 percent of cases go undiagnosed until life-threatening complications occur. Worldwide, about 33 million people have the condition.

And:

Burton believes “the study has the potential to show that there is a lot more atrial fibrillation out there in the real world in older people than we ever imagined, and if you use a tool like an Apple Watch to detect and funnel people to care, you can really drive down stroke risk in those patients.

So what does AFib have to do with stroke? From this article from the National Stroke Association:

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) affects an estimated 2.2 million people in the U.S. AFib is a type of irregular heartbeat, often caused when the two upper chambers of the heart beat unpredictably and sometimes rapidly. These irregular heartbeats can cause blood to collect in the heart and potentially form a clot, which can travel to a person’s brain and cause a stroke.

I do get how the Apple Watch can detect AFib. Not clear exactly what additional role the Apple Watch will have in predicting/preventing stroke. But that’s what the study’s for.

Netflix audience numbers are staggering

Recode, summarizing a detailed letter Netflix sent out to shareholders:

At the end of December, Netflix said that 45 million people had watched Bird Box, a Netflix-owned thriller starring Sandra Bullock that came out just before Christmas.

That is a ridiculous number. Compare that to the viewing numbers for one of the most watched shows on cable, Game of Thrones. From The Telegraph:

Game of Thrones has long smashed records for HBO, the cable network it is broadcast on in its native US: it beat The Sopranos as the network’s most-watched series ever in 2015, after crossing the 18.2 million viewers-per-episode mark.

But that’s small fry in comparison to the average 31 million viewers per episode that season seven has witnessed, an 24 per cent increase on 2016’s ratings.

Think about this. Bird Box is new. It has no lead-in, no history, not much in the way of marketing. And it crushed Game of Thrones. Right out of the box. Because Netflix.

The Academy Awards, which was one of the few high-water mark audiences on network television, had 26.5 million viewers last year. At its absolute height, it hit 46 million viewers. Bird Box out of the gate numbers.

And:

Netflix says that Bird Box, which was released late last year, added another 35 million households in the first four weeks after its release, bringing its total audience to 80 million households.

And:

Netflix says that both You, a young-adultish thriller, and Sex Education, another show with a young-adult bent, should each reach 40 million households in their first four weeks on the service.

Apple has the right idea, I think. They have the distribution, already in place. Only question is, can they build compelling content? And, to me, that comes down to picking the right partners.

iPhone, Pixel night mode, and low light pictures

Jeremy Burge did some side-by-side low light shots, showing the iPhone camera vs Android’s Night Sight. Scroll through the tweets below:

https://twitter.com/jeremyburge/status/1083676824343887879

To me, this is my iPhone camera’s biggest weakness, the one feature that tempts me to carry a Pixel 3, just for the ability to capture better low light images.

Google has a fantastic writeup on Night Sight in this blog post. Jump to the section titled “Capturing the Data” for the details.

As you make your way through the Twitter thread, don’t miss the interaction between Jeremy and Rene Ritchie. It’s not clear that my iPhone is not capable of producing similar, or even superior low light images. It may be simply that Apple chose not to ship a low-light mode that did not deliver pictures that met their standards. But as is, I’d rather have the oversaturated Night Sight images than ones that were simply dark.

iOS 13 and beyond: The future of iPhone and iPad

Rene Ritchie lays out his vision for the future of iOS. Some great ideas here. My favorite (and I’ve been cheering for this concept for a while now):

Lock Screen Complications

Apple Watch provides rich, on-demand information, through complications. With them, not just the time, day and date, but everything from the temperature to your next appointment, stock prices to your current activity level are instantly, glance-ably available. And so are the apps behind them, both the ones made by Apple and many from the App Store.

A variety of Android phones do this as well. Some persistently through always-on displays.

Unlike notifications, which bring event-based information to you as it happens, complications are just always there, chill, hanging out, available whenever you want them. And that makes for a huge improvement in convenience.

If Apple delivers just one thing from Rene’s wish list, customizable iPhone lock screen complications would top my list.

Steve Jobs introducing the weirdest Mac of all time: the Apple Developer Transition Kit

Even if you don’t have a single bit of developer in you, this is a fascinating look at an Apple product that never made the official catalog.

A taste, from the beginning of Stephen Hackett’s MacStories writeup:

In his keynote introducing the switch to Intel, Steve Jobs introduced the weirdest Mac of all time: the Apple Developer Transition Kit.

After announcing the change, Jobs revealed a secret. The Mac he had been using to demo software all morning actually had a 3.6 GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor inside.

Needless to say, the crowd went wild.

Great read.

Be safe on the internet, an open source checklist

This is a really well organized list of habits and resources to improve your online privacy and security. Spend a few minutes just scanning the list. Are you following these habits? If not, dig in a bit, follow the links.

And that thing about freezing your credit? Sound advice.

How charging is handled by the new iPhone Smart Battery Cases

Christine Chan, iMore:

When you charge your iPhone in the Smart Battery Case, the iPhone will usually have priority when normal or fast charging. Once the iPhone reaches about 80 percent charged, the charging is split and allocated to the Smart Battery Case instead. However, if you use a power adapter that can provide more power, such as a MacBook Pro USB-C power adapter, then it can fast charge both the iPhone and Smart Battery Case at the same time. What has priority depends on how much power is being taken in.

Good to know.

Tim Cook on data privacy

Tim Cook, writing for Time Magazine:

That’s why I and others are calling on the U.S. Congress to pass comprehensive federal privacy legislation—a landmark package of reforms that protect and empower the consumer. Last year, before a global body of privacy regulators, I laid out four principles that I believe should guide legislation:

First, the right to have personal data minimized. Companies should challenge themselves to strip identifying information from customer data or avoid collecting it in the first place. Second, the right to knowledge—to know what data is being collected and why. Third, the right to access. Companies should make it easy for you to access, correct and delete your personal data. And fourth, the right to data security, without which trust is impossible.

And:

One of the biggest challenges in protecting privacy is that many of the violations are invisible. For example, you might have bought a product from an online retailer—something most of us have done. But what the retailer doesn’t tell you is that it then turned around and sold or transferred information about your purchase to a “data broker”—a company that exists purely to collect your information, package it and sell it to yet another buyer.

The trail disappears before you even know there is a trail. Right now, all of these secondary markets for your information exist in a shadow economy that’s largely unchecked—out of sight of consumers, regulators and lawmakers.

I applaud Tim’s efforts here. But this road is a difficult one. Just think about all the efforts made to prevent spam, both in your email, and via your phone.

The national do-not-call registry was a solid idea. But it lacked teeth. Like most people, I still regularly get phone calls from spammers and scammers, some spoofing local numbers to make me think the call is from someone I know.

Ridding ourselves of the spammers and scammers takes legislation with teeth. Ridding ourselves of behind the scenes data-brokers will take the same.

Again, I applaud the effort, but it won’t be easy. As always, follow the money. If what you want to get rid of is enriching someone, they’ll use that money to hamper your efforts, via lobbying and political donations. Fortunately, in this case, Apple has deep enough pockets to make a difference here.

Go get ’em Tim.

Free music for your movie, podcast, game, etc.

Composer, sound designer Joel Corelitz has a gift for you. It’s a collection of music he created that is free for you to use in your own projects.

Bookmark the page, as I suspect this collection will grow over time, and you never know when the need will strike.

Dates with Siri

Pull up Siri and ask these two things:

  • How many days since December 17th?

and:

  • How many days since December 17th, 2018?

You’ll get two different responses. Now go read the linked post. Very interesting.

Save changes before quitting?

Niko Kitsakis (via Michael Tsai’s blog):

People called good Macintosh software “Mac-like” because that’s what it felt like. If an application did not adhere to those seemingly unwritten rules, you would develop an itch in the back of your head. Something was off.

This “Mac-like” feeling was at the core of the classic Mac OS era. It’s what gave the Mac its legendary status and its place in history. And while the first versions of OS X broke with some conventions, things became better as OS X progressed. That is to say, until 10.7 came out and started a trend of questionable design decisions that has been continuing ever since.

This is a short-but-sweet post that lays out a specific example of the power of a properly constructed interface. The oldest “Save changes” dialog asked a question, but populated the response buttons with Yes, No, and Cancel. A look at the button only was not helpful.

This evolved into the use of verbs in response buttons, with Save, Don’t save, and Cancel.

The Mac design language was so powerful, and so widely adopted, that any app that did not follow the rules stood out like a sore thumb. Mac applications were instantly recognizable, and apps from outsiders tended to look ugly, in comparison, as those outsiders did not know the rules to follow.

Does the modern macOS and iOS app universe still hew to a common standard? Are Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines lost in the incredible complexity of application creation? Are we better off with fewer rules and less oversight on the things we create? Or might the pendulum swing back, with apps that are recognized as following the iOS and macOS HIGs?

DuckDuckGo taps Apple Maps to power private search results

DuckDuckGo blog:

We’re excited to announce that map and address-related searches on DuckDuckGo for mobile and desktop are now powered by Apple’s MapKit JS framework, giving you a valuable combination of mapping and privacy. As one of the first global companies using Apple MapKit JS, we can now offer users improved address searches, additional visual features, enhanced satellite imagery, and continually updated maps already in use on billions of Apple devices worldwide.

With this updated integration, Apple Maps are now available both embedded within our private search results for relevant queries, as well as available from the “Maps” tab on any search result page.

I love this integration. It is very well done, and is blazingly fast.

Head to DuckDuckGo.com and type pizza in the search bar. Look for a block on the page with a map and click the Open Map button.

Just a taste, but this is privacy-respecting Apple Maps. Brilliant integration.

See also, DuckDuckGo’s CEO writing about their revenue generation model.

Thriller: One guitarist, two guitars

[VIDEO] You can’t see me, but I am doing the Thriller dance as I listen to this. Fingers crooked, hands curled. Can’t help myself.

This is a terrific performance of a wonderfully well written song. Video embedded in main Loop post. [H/T Marcus Mendes]

Apple and the next big thing

John Gruber deconstructs this Wall Street Journal article, titled Polaroid. Walkman. Palm Pilot. iPhone?. It’s a terrific read, especially useful given the linked article is behind a paywall.

Read John’s whole piece, it’s not that long. But from the wrap-up:

There will be major new products from Apple, someday, when they’re ready. There is no rush for them. If you’re worried about Apple’s near-future success, the key is their execution on their existing products. The Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Watch are all businesses that any company would kill for. Apple has all of them, and none of them are going anywhere. Apple needs to keep them insanely great where they already are, and raise them to insanely great where they aren’t.

This. So much this. I am such an Apple fan. I want that insanely great feeling to go back to being higher in the mix, more the rule than the rare jewel.

Apple’s very first retail store, at Tysons Corner Center, and a rumored closure/move

Michael Steeber, 9to5Mac:

Apple’s historic Tysons Corner store could be preparing to see an inspired move. Recent plans indicate that construction of a significantly larger and more modern replacement space may soon begin at the nearby Tysons Galleria.

This is big news. The Apple Store at Tysons Corner was the very first one in the world. It was the store that saw the first massive lineups waiting for the chance to buy an iPhone. It was Steve’s brainchild, a plan that would upend the entire concept of retail success.

I love this store. It’s my go-to store, and continues to be massively busy, even when the mall in which it lives is relatively empty (which is rare – it’s a very busy mall). It is a true cornerstone for the mall, a shopping destination for many.

Michael’s article is a good read, with lots of useful links. I would add a few clarifying points.

First, the existing Apple Store is in a mall called Tysons Corner Center, an extremely large, almost always busy, indoor mall. It is on the second floor of the mall, with massive glass doors that allow entry from the mall, into a relatively large rectangular space. No trees, no staircases, just a big retail rectangle dotted with typical Apple Store fixtures and furniture.

It carries none of the architectural details of the later Apple Store evolutions, but it is what it is. The space is boxed in by other retail stores and there are no real options to expand or upgrade the space in any significant way.

The second location referred to in the article is in a nearby mall called Tysons Galleria (to us locals, it’s called Tysons II). Tysons Corner Center is a mall for the people, with typical chain shops, affordable (at least for the region). Tysons II is notably upscale, with high end jewelers, boutique clothiers and pricy kitchen shops. Tysons Corner Center has massive amounts of parking, well managed, and Tysons II has limited parking, with lots of driving around looking for a space.

There is a metro stop between the two malls. Notably, the metro stop has a pedestrian bridge designed for access to Tysons Corner Center (the one with the existing Apple Store), and no trivial way to get to Tysons II (short of walking along busy roads, dodging traffic).

Lots to process here. I would love to see another Apple Store open in the area. I would hate to see the historic first Apple Store close in favor of a new location that is in a high end boutique center, with relatively little foot traffic, that is harder to get to, and far less pedestrian/parking friendly.

As far as I can tell, no formal announcements have been made. Clearly, the retail pieces are moving, rare anchor space being opened up. So it does seem likely that something will happen here. Following with bated breath.

Siri, the HomePod, and story time

First, from this Apple press release, touting this Friday’s HomePod release in China:

HomePod is a convenient way to check the weather or the latest sports scores, set multiple timers and reminders, make and receive phone calls and more. Siri on HomePod also offers storytelling for children, just say “Hey Siri, tell me a story.”

As pointed out by Benjamin Mayo in this tweet, the request to “tell me a story” does not yield anything useful, just the typical Siri whimsy.

But it is unlike Apple to post an announcement for a non-existent feature. I’m wondering if there’s a mechanism in the works that will bring story time to HomePod, perhaps with an imminent update. I’ve got the latest update installed, so there’s no update waiting, at least as of this moment.

This also makes me wonder how Apple would deliver storytelling for children. Would this be a hook into the Books store, where you’d buy a book and Siri would read to your kids, keeping track of the current place in the book?

Would there be an API for developers to add their own, similar commands? Might this be a clue into HomePod/Siri’s direction for WWDC 2019?

All speculation, I realize. But Apple did open this door with their press release. Will update if I hear anything more.

Every product Apple has made so far

This is a timeline showing every product Apple has ever made. Well, mostly.

One nit to pick is the QuickTake Camara, introduced as the QuickTake 100, followed by the QuickTake 150 and then, the QuickTake 200. The pic says QuickTake 100, but shows the 200. Just a nit. Any others?

This was a fun graphic for me, especially when I think about Steve Jobs’ personal timeline, especially what the product line looked like just before he returned to Apple, back in 1997. The QuickTake was one of those products Steve left on the cutting room floor.

Have fun playing with this interactive sandbox

Pick something to draw with, start tapping and dragging. This is fun, and to me, has huge potential, especially if someone created something similar as a native app, drawing on the Bionic chip and machine learning.

To get you started, tap Plant, draw some greenery, then switch to Acid, go to work.

Drop down menus on your iPhone

Simeon (@twolivesleft) works on a programming app called Codea.

Over the weekend, I came across the linked Twitter thread, showing off a drop-down, draggable, menu system running on an iPhone. Take a minute to watch the first few videos in the thread.

https://twitter.com/twolivesleft/status/1081486534623223809

I love this approach. To me, it brings the best of the Mac to iOS. I also see it as a bit of a missing link, bridging the Mac and iOS. Imagine a menuing system that kicked in if you were allowed to run an iOS app on your Mac, or if a pointing device was ever allowed to connect to an iOS device.

Interesting work.

Apple’s Biggest Problem? My Mom

Kevin Roose, New York Times:

She’s a relatively tech-savvy retiree and a longtime Apple fan who has used many of the company’s products over the years. I learned to type on an Apple IIGS at her office, and she was an early adopter of the original turquoise iMac. These days, she uses her iPhone to check Facebook and Instagram, talk with her friends and relatives, and play solitaire and Words With Friends.

Her phone isn’t the latest model — it’s a three-year-old iPhone 6S — and it’s missing some of the latest features. She can’t take portrait mode photos using a dual-lens camera, a feature introduced in the iPhone 7 Plus, and she can’t unlock her phone using Face ID, which was introduced in the iPhone X in 2017. Her phone’s battery life could be better, and the device sometimes runs out of storage space.

But she’s happy with it, and doesn’t feel the need to upgrade.

The case I’m getting here is that this “hold the phone a long time” is something new, something unplanned, something that is happening to Apple.

I see it as strategic planning, long term thinking on Apple’s part. Part of Apple’s iOS evolution was to create an operating system that would support a deeper run of older devices, even improve the experience from previous iOS versions.

To me, what this article shows is that Apple has been successful in this goal. And that means, as the smartphone market has matured and grown more saturated, Apple could ease from a dependence on iPhone sales to pay the bills, to a future where other devices, as well as a growing services ecosystem, could shoulder more and more of that load.

Apple, the iPad Pro, and “subtle deviations in flatness”

Apple Support Note addressing bendy iPad Pros:

iPad Pro cellular models now feature Gigabit-class LTE, with support for more cellular bands than any other tablet. To provide optimal cellular performance, small vertical bands or “splits” in the sides of the iPad allow parts of the enclosure to function as cellular antennas.

On how those splits are made:

These bands are manufactured using a process called co-molding. In this high-temperature process, plastic is injected into precisely milled channels in the aluminum enclosure where it bonds to micro-pores in the aluminum surface. After the plastic cools, the entire enclosure is finished with a precision CNC machining operation, yielding a seamless integration of plastic and aluminum into a single, strong enclosure.

So far, so good. But:

The new straight edges and the presence of the antenna splits may make subtle deviations in flatness more visible only from certain viewing angles that are imperceptible during normal use. These small variances do not affect the strength of the enclosure or the function of the product and will not change over time through normal use.

Tucking this link away, on the off-chance I come across an iPad Pro that exceeds “subtle deviations in flatness”.

An Open Letter to iPhone Owners from Steve Jobs (Sept 6, 2007)

This blast from the past surfaced to the top of Reddit’s Apple forum yesterday. Note that the letter appeared in all the major Apple news sources of the day, published as written.

The letter was posted on September 6, 2007. The iPhone was officially released on June 29, 2007.

Not making a particular point here, just found this fascinating.

To all iPhone customers:

I have received hundreds of emails from iPhone customers who are upset about Apple dropping the price of iPhone by $200 two months after it went on sale. After reading every one of these emails, I have some observations and conclusions.

First, I am sure that we are making the correct decision to lower the price of the 8GB iPhone from $599 to $399, and that now is the right time to do it. iPhone is a breakthrough product, and we have the chance to ‘go for it’ this holiday season. iPhone is so far ahead of the competition, and now it will be affordable by even more customers. It benefits both Apple and every iPhone user to get as many new customers as possible in the iPhone ‘tent’. We strongly believe the $399 price will help us do just that this holiday season.

Second, being in technology for 30+ years I can attest to the fact that the technology road is bumpy. There is always change and improvement, and there is always someone who bought a product before a particular cutoff date and misses the new price or the new operating system or the new whatever. This is life in the technology lane. If you always wait for the next price cut or to buy the new improved model, you’ll never buy any technology product because there is always something better and less expensive on the horizon. The good news is that if you buy products from companies that support them well, like Apple tries to do, you will receive years of useful and satisfying service from them even as newer models are introduced.

Third, even though we are making the right decision to lower the price of iPhone, and even though the technology road is bumpy, we need to do a better job taking care of our early iPhone customers as we aggressively go after new ones with a lower price. Our early customers trusted us, and we must live up to that trust with our actions in moments like these.

Therefore, we have decided to offer every iPhone customer who purchased an iPhone from either Apple or AT&T, and who is not receiving a rebate or any other consideration, a $100 store credit towards the purchase of any product at an Apple Retail Store or the Apple Online Store. Details are still being worked out and will be posted on Apple’s website next week. Stay tuned.

We want to do the right thing for our valued iPhone customers. We apologize for disappointing some of you, and we are doing our best to live up to your high expectations of Apple.

Steve Jobs Apple CEO

A few positive things to take away from Apple’s expected quarterly earnings report

Ignore the opening paragraph, which is a rant on “armchair CEOS” and “doom and gloom”, read the list itself. Some thoughtful points.

For me, this point stands out:

Installed base of active devices grew by more than 100 million units.

This demonstrates how Apple’s brand tends to keep users within the ecosystem, rather than losing more of them to competitors. Year over year growth for Apple’s services are largely dependent on increasing the overall active installed user base, so this bodes extremely well for Apple’s services sector going forward.

My 2 cents, perhaps uninformed, but it’s what I got:

The smartphone market is, like the PC market years before, growing saturated. The big win features for smartphones have arrived, new features are incremental, not revolutionary. Most people have what they need.

As has been pointed out by many biz bloggers, Apple is shifting their focus to Services. And this new business model grows relative to the installed base of active devices.

Short term, pricing issues and trade wars are bringing the pain. But as long as Apple continues to grow its installed base, I think they’ll turn this giant ship in that new business direction and the business model will find a new point of stability.

An Apple Watch that authenticates via wrist skin textures

Patently Apple:

Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to the field of wearable electronic devices including a wrist biometric sensor. While options for a biometric authentication system for Apple Watch could include Face ID or Touch ID in the future, Apple’s latest patent application on this subject matter actually points to an all new form of biometric authentication using a wrist biometric sensor located on the inside portion of a watch band that reads skin texture patterns.

Imagine if your Apple Watch “knew” your wrist, used its skin texture patterns to authenticate. No iPhone required, no passcode either. My guess is, there’d be some training required the first time you put on your new Apple Watch, in the same way as you trained your face for Face ID or fingers for Touch ID.