December 6, 2017

The story that appeared in Quartz this November seemed shocking enough on its own: Google had quietly tracked the location of its Android users, even those who had turned off such monitoring on their smartphones.

But missing from the news site’s report was another eyebrow-raising detail: Some of its evidence, while accurate, appears to have been furnished by one of Google’s fiercest foes: Oracle.

Oh my.

Right there on the corner of Brannan and Fourth Streets, there is a billboard advertising some marijuana brand, saying “Hello marijuana, goodbye stress.” It got me thinking about stress and what is that is making people stressed out? Also, what does it say about people living in this tech town — are we so stressed, because of work?

I really enjoyed this article.

Gaining insight into the overall user population is crucial to improving the user experience. The data needed to derive such insights is personal and sensitive, and must be kept private. In addition to privacy concerns, practical deployments of learning systems using this data must also consider resource overhead, computation costs, and communication costs. In this article, we give an overview of a system architecture that combines differential privacy and privacy best practices to learn from a user population.

A new article from Apple’s Machine Learning Journal, which includes a link to a PDF with in-depth equations and other details.

From Apple’s press release:

Starting today, customers around the world can access the Amazon Prime Video app on Apple TV to stream award-winning and critically acclaimed titles including Prime Original Series and Movies. Also starting this week, the Apple TV app — a unified place for iPhone, iPad and Apple TV users to discover and start watching the best shows and movies — supports live sports, giving fans in the US a simple and seamless way to keep track of their favorite teams and games in real time. Participating sports apps in the Apple TV app include ESPN and the NBA, developed in partnership between the NBA and Turner Sports, with more to be added soon. Starting tomorrow, Prime members in the US can enjoy Thursday Night Football on the Apple TV app for iPhone, iPad and Apple TV.

It’s a big day for Apple TV. They’ve added the Amazon Prime Video app (here’s a first look we posted earlier today) as well as live sports to the Apple TV app.

Live sports in the Apple TV app means fans in the US can now follow their favorite teams to ensure those live games show up first in their Up Next queue. Fans can also receive on-screen notifications when a game is about to start, and when their favorite teams are in a close game, so they can easily switch to catch the most exciting sports moments live. Additionally, through a new dedicated Sports tab in the Apple TV app, fans can see the teams, leagues and sporting events currently playing or coming up soon, along with the time remaining and current scores.

You’ll want to update your Apple TV to the latest version of tvOS for all this to work.

100th anniversary of “The Halifax Explosion”

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the largest man-made, non-nuclear explosion in history – The Halifax Explosion.

A new stamp commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion

On the morning of 6 December 1917, two ships, the SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship laden with high explosives, and the Norwegian vessel SS Imo, collided in Halifax harbour, eventually catching fire.

The CBC has a really good interactive video explaining some of the reasons why the disaster happened.

Approximately 2,000 people were killed by blast, debris, fires or collapsed buildings, and an estimated 9,000 others were injured. The sound of the explosion was heard 60 miles away and felt as far away as the city of Boston.

Boston, in particular, offered extraordinary assistance to the city and, in recognition of their generosity, the province of Nova Scotia provides the people of Boston with their official city Christmas tree each year.

First look at Apple TV’s Amazon Prime Video app

UPDATE: Scroll to the bottom for a list of questions I’ve been responding to on Twitter.

I’ve been looking forward to an Amazon Prime Video app on my Apple TV for quite some time.

The good news is, the app is here and available for download. The better news? The app works quite well. One caveat, which I’ll get to in a minute, but the overall experience is excellent, just what you’d expect from a well-written Apple TV app.

First things first, if you haven’t kept up, download and install the latest and greatest version of tvOS. The Amazon Prime Video app requires tvOS 11.1 or later.

On your Apple TV, go to: Settings > System > Software Updates > Update Software

The update will take a few minutes. Once your Apple TV is up to date, launch the App Store app on the Apple TV.

In the App Store, tap up, then over to the right to get to Search. Tap “am” and you should see the Amazon Prime Video app, like so:

Tap install, then tap open to launch the app. The first thing that will appear is this (somewhat confusing) launch screen:

The three choices are:

  • Sign in and start watching: You’ll need to enter your email and password, log in to Amazon to access your Prime Video content.
  • Register Apple TV online: This is a great, though slightly broken shortcut, allowing you to add your Apple TV to your Amazon account via your browser. This bring up the caveat I mentioned above, and the path I will follow in a sec.
  • No thanks, start browsing: A guest mode, let’s you browse around.

I tapped the second button, which displayed a code on the screen, told me to head over to amazon.com/mytv. When I typed that URL into Safari, it took me to a “My TV” product page on the Amazon site (the issue is Safari autocompleting the URL). If this happens to you, try clicking on the URL in this post (just above). That should work. If it doesn’t, head on over to Chrome and open the link there.

You’ll be presented with a text box, asking you to enter the code displayed on your Apple TV. Enter the code and, hopefully, the behind the scenes elves will make the proper connections and you’ll see something like this on your Apple TV:

Your Amazon Prime Video app is now linked to your Amazon account, all pretty painlessly. Dismiss the alert, and you are good to go.

The app works quite well. I was able to use the remote microphone to do search, just as you’d expect. One thing I’d like to see added is Hulu/Netflix style individual user accounts. Since Amazon’s shopping experience is not built for account sharing, I’m not sure how they will be able to implement this. But if they are going to play in this space, they should consider adding this.

Questions? Ping me on Twitter.

QUESTIONS:

  • Does the Amazon Prime Video app support the new Apple TV 4K? In short, yes. From the Apple press release:

Prime members can now access thousands of titles through the Prime Video app on Apple TV 4K and previous generations of Apple TV, including Prime Original Series and Movies such as “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “The Big Sick,” with additional titles coming to the service every month. Prime Video also offers a wide array of award-winning kids content, including “Tumble Leaf,” “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” and “The Snowy Day.” Prime Video further expands the library of TV shows and movies available in 4K HDR on Apple TV 4K.

  • Does the Amazon Prime Video app support Siri search? Yes, though it does not appear to be integrated into the TV app. But if you go to the top level Apple TV Search function, you’ll find Amazon Prime Video content, and selecting that content will launch the Prime Video app.

  • Note that the Safari link (amazon.com/mytv) appears to work for some people, not others. So give it a try. If it doesn’t work, head over to Chrome.

December 5, 2017

Open Culture:

Over the past few years, the Youtube channel Every Frame a Painting has become one of the modern cinema video essay’s most respected purveyors, examining everything from how editors think to the bland music of superhero films to why Vancouver never plays itself to the signature technique of auteurs like Martin Scorsese, Jackie Chan, and, yes, Michael Bay.

Alas, Every Frame a Painting has come to an end.

This has been a remarkable series I have enjoyed immensely. Anyone who is a fan of movies and wants to understand how what occurs on screen is painstakingly created should watch these videos.

Consumer Reports:

The iPhone X is an innovative device with a fantastic camera and beautiful display, but other phones are tougher and can operate longer on a charge.

Overall, the iPhone X—as in 10, not the letter that follows W—easily made Consumer Reports’ recommended list and broke into the extremely tight list of top 10 rated phones, where all the devices are separated by only two points on our 100-point scale.

It was edged out by Apple’s less-expensive iPhone 8, starting at $700, and 8 Plus, starting at $800, which both proved hardier in a test designed to reproduce the drops and fumbles that can cause cracked screens and other damage.

Many of us are justifiably skeptical about Consumer Reports and their tests of Apple products in general but many others rely on them for help in making purchase decisions.

Apple is said to have bought Oakland’s audio tool developer Pop Up Archive, known for the audiosear.ch podcast search engine, in a move that could bolster the company’s own podcast service.

It will be interesting to see what Apple does with this technology to help its service.

With the addition of both fast charging and wireless charging to Apple’s 2017 iPhone lineup, there are more ways than ever to charge your iPhone. Every method is different — some are faster and more expensive, while others are slower but more convenient.

Juli Clover did a good job with these tests.

Browser-based interfaces are slow, clumsy, and require you to be online just to use them. Browsers are perfect for reading web content, but not ideal for creating it. If you’re serious about writing for the web, you need a desktop blog editor. If you’re lucky enough to have a Mac, nothing is more powerful, or more elegant than MarsEdit.

I absolutely love MarsEdit. Every post I write on The Loop goes through this app and has for many years.

Nanda Kusumadi:

We take it for granted these days, but it’s amazing when you step back and reflect that what you have in your pocket is a device capable of fulfilling the complete photography journey. From planning your shot, to shooting it, post-processing it, and then to sharing or printing it – it’s all right there at the palm of your hand.

I’m not a huge fan of the actual photos taken – I’ve been to the places shot and the photos seem washed out, colour-wise, but that may be the photographer’s editing – but the detail in the shots is remarkable.

I’m headed to Australia for three weeks on Friday and this post actually has me considering whether or not I will commit Professional Photographer Heresy and not bring my Nikon D600 DSLR and shoot only with the iPhone X. Gulp.

Petapixel:

Photographer and filmmaker Dustin Farrell spent the summer chasing lightning with a $110,000 Phantom Flex4K high-speed camera. What resulted was this 4K short film, titled “Transient,” that shows the epic beauty of lightning in 1,000fps slow motion.

Farrell writes that he spent over 30 days traveling over 20,000 miles this summer in search of storms. Most of the footage in this film was shot in Arizona in 1,000fps uncompressed raw.

This footage is so amazing, I’m tempted to call it fake. But it’s not and it’s spectacular.

SIM-free means, in part, that you won’t get a carrier SIM card. You’ll still need to get one. Keep that (to me, a tiny bit of a hassle) in mind.

UPDATE: From the comments:

You can get a SIM card for free from T-Mobile, and it takes seconds to install.

Meanwhile, that SIM-free iPhone—unlike the GSM models— is fully compatible with all networks including CDMA. More importantly, it has the Qualcomm chip, which means it will provide about 30% better wireless performance than Intel-equipped models in terms of data speeds, signal reception, voice quality, and battery life. And due to all of the above advantages, the SIM-free model will also provide a significantly higher resale value.

This is the iPhone variant everyone should buy.

UPDATE 2: Also from the comments:

Dave: it may also be worth mentioning that this is a great option if you already have a nano SIM card in your existing iPhone.

Duly noted.

  1. Take this with a grain of salt. Could simply be a parsing error on Google’s web crawling bot. But still.
  2. If you want the official word on the iMac Pro launch, here’s a link to Apple’s official iMac Pro notification page. Sign up and Apple will let you know when the iMac Pro launch is officially announced.

Daniel Eran Dilger, AppleInsider:

Rather than being the phenomenal, exciting new product category launch that pundits love to praise, the Alexa-powered Echo is Amazon’s salvaged booby prize for failing in smartphones: a few million units sold at low margin, versus the tens of millions of smartphones other Android licensees have been able to sell (or the hundreds of millions of high-margin iPhones Apple has been selling each year).

Ouch. But I agree with the premise. The Echo is a highly successful pivot. If Amazon’s 2014 Fire phone had caught on, it’s not clear that they would have gone down the Echo path.

Echo and related Alexa-based smart speakers are really “smart mics” for listening to commands. Amazon’s retail background works to leverage this to take online orders from Alexa users, but its original goal in hardware was a mobile phone with a camera, display and mic all working together to identify potential products to sell, not just a simple voice appliance. Amazon laid this out in excited detail at the Fire Phone launch, it just wasn’t able to sell it.

And:

Google’s Home is a straight up knock off of Echo, designed to counter the threat of Amazon reaching audiences of online buyers before they ever think to search Google.

And:

HomePod isn’t a “smart mic” seeking to force Siri into more places to intercept users’ attention. Despite cloying narratives of how Amazon is dominating the “smart speaker” market it created out of necessity after Fire Phone imploded in a cloud of smoke, Apple has always had a commanding lead in the number of people using its Siri voice assistant worldwide.

And:

Unlike Amazon, Apple isn’t trying to intercept buyers before they head to a retail store. Apple’s happy with connecting users with either stores or online retailers; Apple Pay works for both, and iOS apps create a blurring line that serves either, or both at the same time. Apple’s Siri doesn’t attempt to keep people out of rival apps or stores; it seeks to help them launch apps to find whatever they need.

And:

HomePod responds to Siri commands and passes them to your iPhone for launching apps or presenting a visual answer. But HomePod isn’t just a “smart mic” like Echo and Home. Primarily, It’s an intelligent speaker designed to produce exceptional home audio that intelligently fills whatever space it is installed in.

These are just snippets. There is so much more to process in this insightful, well written post, but the quotes laid out above should give you a basic sense of where Daniel is going with this.

Terrific job, definitely worth your time.

One more reason to upgrade your older Apple Watch.

Matt Birchler, in the introduction to a week long review of the Pixel 2 running Android Oreo:

I have been using the Google Pixel 2, which is the latest and greatest Android phone out there. I chose this phone for my experiment because I wanted to leave no room for my conclusions to be colored by a bad OEM skin on top of Android or by a lower quality phone as my comparisons to iOS should be as fair as possible. Since I wanted to review Oreo, a Pixel was my only option in October, and thankfully that Pixel has top of the like specs and the best Android camera out there. This is Android how Google intended it.

And, then, this TL;DR conclusion:

Android has grown up considerably over the last decade. It’s no longer a complete disaster of a user experience, and some elements have actually surpassed what Apple is doing with iOS. Notifications are much better than they are on iOS and Google Assistant is more accurate and more helpful than Siri. that said, there are a million little (and not so little) things that truly make Android a sub-par experience for me. Your milage may vary, but the abysmal third party software available for the platform, poor inter-app communication, and countless stability issues make Android a place I only want to visit for a month or two per year, not something I can see myself using full time.

Hop over to the front page of Matt’s blog to dig in. He’s got the intro and the first two parts of the review up on the site.

Josh Centers, TidBITS:

At this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple and Amazon finally announced that we would be able to watch Amazon video natively on the Apple TV by the end of the year.

And:

But it’s December, and Amazon Prime Video for the Apple TV remains vaporware. Is it still due in 2017? Surprisingly, yes. Amazon public relations told me, “Thanks for checking in. Yes, you can expect the launch this year.”

This report jibes with last week’s report that the Apple TV app was being beta tested by Amazon employees.

[Via DF]

December 4, 2017

Ars Technica:

According to a top Irish official, Apple has agreed to to pay Ireland around $15.4 billion in back taxes.

“We have now reached agreement with Apple in relation to the principles and operation of the escrow fund,” Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe told reporters before a meeting with European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, per Reuters.

“We expect the money will begin to be transmitted into the account from Apple across the first quarter of next year.”

This seems to be such an odd story. Ireland doesn’t want the money. Apple doesn’t want to pay the money. But the rules of the EU dictate the settlement. And how do you go about transmitting $15.4 billion “into the account”? Paypal?

Bloomberg:

Apple Inc.’s Tim Cook and Google’s Sundar Pichai made their first appearances at China’s World Internet Conference, bringing star power to a gathering the Chinese government uses to promote its strategy of tight controls online.

Apple’s chief executive officer gave a surprise keynote at the opening ceremony on Sunday, calling for future internet and AI technologies to be infused with privacy, security and humanity. The same day, one of China’s most-senior officials called for more aggressive government involvement online to combat terrorism and criminals. Wang Huning, one of seven men on China’s top decision-making body, even called for a global response team to go well beyond its borders.

Apple and Cook are walking a fine line between their corporate culture of user privacy and the Chinese government’s desire for control over those same users.

A Supermoon trilogy

A “super blue blood moon”? Come on. They’re just making stuff up now.

Om Malik talking about how a simple sound brought back powerful memories of his grandfather:

But to me, AI as we know it is nowhere close to having the intelligence of the human mind. I suspect my brain took random bits of metadata stored in my mind and constructed a good enough memory to bring a tear and a smile to my face.

That’s an interesting point. I can’t imagine that AI would be able to bring such an emotional response to something as simple as a sound that takes us back in time.

TidBITS:

Digital forensics firm Elcomsoft revealed this week that Apple has changed how encrypted iOS backups are protected, reducing security to improve the overall user experience.

Elcomsoft’s discovery kicked off a vigorous debate on Hacker News and Twitter, but does this change represent a real risk to the average Apple user? The answer is yes, but that answer has to be understood in the proper context. In absolute terms, Apple’s change is a step backward for iOS security, but the nuances of real-world usage suggest that Apple sees it as a net improvement for protecting user data from loss.

While I wish that Apple hadn’t made this change, and I do consider it a hit to my personal security, I can see where Apple is coming from and how the company may see it as enhancing the safety of user data. Let me explain.

After some friendly nudging by Dave Mark and I (and others), Rich Mogull comes up with his usual great explanation and cuts through the FUD.

Daily Mail:

The ground-breaking digital blue box was developed by Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak in 1972 and was the inventor’s first printed circuit board.

But the box was actually a hacking device that fooled a phone company’s switchboard by reproducing its specific tones.

As a result, the user was able to get free overseas phone calls in an era when making a long-distance call was hugely expensive.

Click through to the post. Some terrific pics and a video of Steve Jobs telling the blue box story. This is a piece of history I would love to own.

Chance Miller, 9to5Mac:

Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities is today out with a new investor note, obtained by 9to5Mac. In the piece, Kuo breaks down how Apple is working to integrate faster and more versatile circuit boards across its product lineup come 2018.

Currently, the iPhone 8 and iPhone X both use a new flexible circuit board made from liquid crystal polymer. Both phones use it in their antenna designs, while the iPhone X also uses it in its TrueDepth camera. This LCP FPCB technology allows for high-speed and low-latency data transfer.

More detail in the post, but nice to see this terrific, space-saving, performance-increasing tech making its way over to the Apple Watch and Mac.

Makes me wonder if this is part of the supply-chain scheduling driving the iMac Pro and Mac Pro. The iMac Pro was announced at WWDC, said to ship this month (December 2017). And the Mac Pro is, well, anybody’s guess. But good to know this tech is coming.

Lots of goodies in the iOS 11.2 update. Biggest of all was the release of Apple Pay Cash. I’ve been playing with it, looks very useful. In a nutshell, you’ll tie a debit card to the Apple Pay Cash card in your wallet, then use the Apple Pay Cash card to send or receive cash. A bit like Venmo or PayPal, but tied in to the secure enclave.

The folks from MacRumors put together a nice intro to Apple Pay Cash that I found quite easy to follow. It’s embedded below.

Once you’ve installed the iOS 11.2 update, fire up the Wallet app and you’ll be prompted to set up Apple Pay Cash.

UPDATE: There have been some comments about Apple Pay Cash only being available in beta. While this might be true, I can tell you that I played with it on a phone running the beta as well as on a phone that has a public release of iOS 11.2. So, perhaps it’s the Apple Pay Cash server that’s in beta?

Apple releases four new Apple Watch Series 3 ads

The ads are branded as “The Gift of Go”. Beautifully filmed eye candy. All four embedded below. Worth watching.

I think Emojipedia is a terrific resource. If you’ve not spent time here before, jump to the linked page, showing the emoji changes that came with this iOS release. First, there’s there’s the high resolution images of the 17 emoji that have changed.

To get a sense of these, take a look at the tumbler emoji. Here’s the old, iOS 11.1 version. And here’s the version updated for iOS 11.2.

I love the attention to detail here. The old one looks like a bit flat, and the scotch (or whatever is in it) looks cloudy. The new one looks more realistic.

[UPDATE: Apparently, the tumbler emoji was updated, then reverted back to the old version, then updated back to the new one, perhaps as a result of a QA oversight. Regardless, nice to see the design improvement.]

Another thing to note about this page is “all, changed, new, removed” links. Each gives you a different, useful view into the current emoji.

And, if you are interested, you can scroll down and tap on the links for previous versions of iOS, to see what was new with those releases. Good stuff.

December 3, 2017

JPL:

If you tried to start a car that’s been sitting in a garage for decades, you might not expect the engine to respond. But a set of thrusters aboard the Voyager 1 spacecraft successfully fired up Wednesday after 37 years without use.

Voyager 1, NASA’s farthest and fastest spacecraft, is the only human-made object in interstellar space, the environment between the stars. The spacecraft, which has been flying for 40 years, relies on small devices called thrusters to orient itself so it can communicate with Earth. These thrusters fire in tiny pulses, or “puffs,” lasting mere milliseconds, to subtly rotate the spacecraft so that its antenna points at our planet. Now, the Voyager team is able to use a set of four backup thrusters, dormant since 1980.

This is incredible. Voyager 1 is 13 billion miles away, running on ancient computer code and JPL was able to use dormant thrusters to give it a nudge.