December 7, 2018

Atlas Obscura:

The moka pot is a symbol of Italy: of postwar ingenuity and global culinary dominance. It is in the Museum of Modern Art, the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, and other temples to design. It is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most popular coffee maker, and was for decades commonplace to the point of ubiquity not only in Italy but in Cuba, Argentina, Australia, and the United States.

It’s also widely misunderstood and maligned, with approval in the modern coffee world coming perhaps a bit too late, in only the past few years. Get one while you can.

If you love coffee but don’t have a Moka Pot (or a “caffettiera” as an Italian girlfriend who turned me on to them called it), then you don’t actually love coffee. Buy one for yourself (Amazon affiliate link) or a fellow coffee lover this Christmas.

Ars Technica:

On Thursday, the Australian parliament approved a measure that critics say will weaken encryption in favor of law enforcement and the demands of government.

The new law, which has been pushed for since at least 2017, requires that companies provide a way to get at encrypted communications and data via a warrant process. In short, the law thwarts (or at least tries to thwart) strong encryption.

Companies who receive one of these warrants have the option of either complying with the government or waiting for a court order. However, by default, the orders are secret, so companies would not be able to tell the public that they had received one.

The Australian government wants companies to expose themselves but not to be exposed in turn.

DxOMark:

For photography, the iPhone XR offers a single-cam solution, as opposed to the dual-cam setup of the XS models. In terms of specs, the iPhone XR’s camera is broadly what you expect from a high-end single-cam device, featuring a 12Mp 1/2.55″ sensor with 1.4µm pixel pitch, a 26mm f/1.8 aperture lens with optical image stabilization, phase-detection autofocus, and a dual-tone LED flash.

Despite the different camera hardware, on the software and image processing side of things, the XR comes with the same innovative feature as the XS models — for example, when shooting stills, the camera continuously captures a multi-frame buffer at different exposures, allowing for simultaneous zero shutter lag and HDR processing. Thanks to this technology, the latest iPhones can display HDR images in real time, making for a true “what you see is what you get” preview image.

So how does the quality of the iPhone XR’s images stack up against the competition’s? Read our full review to find out.

The fact it’s a great camera on a phone is not surprising. Just how good it is, even from a technical point of view, is pleasantly surprising.

“Long Long Man” Japanese ad

What a wonderfully weird ad but we expect nothing less of Japanese commercials. Thanks to my friend Jared Earle for the link.

Now I want candy.

Lori Dorn, Laughing Squid:

Legendary script supervisor Martha Pinson, who has worked with such luminary directors as Martin Scorsese, Sidney Lumet, Oliver Stone, Milos Forman, Brian De Palma and Peter Yates, sat down with Vanity Fair to dissect a scene that was deliberately strewn with serious continuity problems. Pinson spotted many of these errors, explained what was wrong and made corrections in real time. Actually, Pinson spotted all of the errors, but left them for the viewers to find.

I love movies. This was a lot of fun.

John Gruber:

You can say $40 is too much for an iPhone case, but I’d say Apple’s $40 clear case is easily worth twice as much as the $20 clear cases I’ve tried. If I bought an XR and wanted to use a case, this is the case I would buy. It’s so good it makes me wonder why Apple doesn’t make clear cases like this one for the iPhone XS and XS Max.

High praise. Puzzling that it took so long to get to market. Is it the material science involved?

CNBC:

Apple is in advanced talks to buy rights to a gritty Israeli TV show called “Nevelot” (English translation: “Bastards”) and adapt it for the U.S., beating out bids from competitors including Showtime, FX and Amazon, according to several people with knowledge of the deal. The show’s plot involves two military veterans who go on a youth-focused killing spree because they believe today’s kids don’t understand the sacrifices of their generation.

And:

Apple’s heads of programming, Zach Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, who started in June, have been working overtime to dispel the myth that Apple is interested only in family-friendly material.

In general, Apple wants high-impact content based on things people have heard of, like books, franchises or ideas that have resonance, according to people who have spoken to the company.

Not clear that Apple will actually close on this deal and, if they do, whether Apple’s version of the show will retain the grittiness and violence of the original.

Hard to judge Apple’s true aims here until the new wave of shows actually hit the market.

Van Amburg and Erlicht, who were previously presidents of Sony Pictures Television, are highly respected in the entertainment industry. One of their biggest successes was bringing “Breaking Bad” and its showrunner Vince Gilligan to Sony.

The duo has made it very clear they are now looking for Apple’s version of the series, which revolved around an high school teacher turned meth dealer.

Apple brought this team on board. Hard to believe they would hamstring them, keep them from doing what they do best. Time will tell.

Real stories of Apple Watch saving people’s lives

Apple posted these two videos. Watch them. They are powerful.

Alex Fitzpatrick, Time:

Captain America and Black Panther were about to defend Earth from the villain Thanos when Kevin Foley first noticed something was wrong. Foley, a 46-year-old information-technology worker from Kyle, Texas, was heading into the theater to see Avengers: Infinity War when he realized he was having trouble breathing normally. The sensation struck again during another movie the following night, but more severe this time. Once the credits on the second film rolled, Foley took action: he looked at his wristwatch. It was a bigger step than you might imagine, because Foley was wearing an Apple Watch equipped with medical sensors and experimental software to track basic functions of his heart. And the watch was worried. It had, according to the display, detected signs of an irregular heartbeat.

“The watch was worried”. Love that. More:

Along with competitors, Apple gadgets have already offered fitness functions, such as apps to track the steps you’ve walked. But with the new ECG scan, Apple is moving squarely into medical aspects of health, a distinction underscored by the fact it sought–and received–Food and Drug Administration clearance for the cardiac monitor.

And:

Even as it was devising new sensors and software, Apple was also beefing up its health expertise. In a move that didn’t attract much attention among tech journalists but that made a splash in the medical-tech world, Apple hired Dr. Sumbul Desai from Stanford’s medical school to serve as its vice president of health.

Dr. Desai got a computer science degree, went to work for IBM, then ABC and Disney, then went back to med school. Getting into med school is an incredibly stressful, difficult process. To leave the comfort of a big paycheck, make a major career left turn, then face and conquer that challenge is impressive, to say the least.

She went back to school for a medical degree and completed her residency at Stanford, eventually joining the university and later becoming vice chair of strategy and innovation for the department of medicine. She continues to serve as a clinical associate professor of medicine there in addition to her Apple responsibilities, a signal of the level of cooperation between the organizations.

Great hire for Apple. Nice to see her hard work getting this exposure.

Terrific article, great overview of Apple’s path into health and the newly rolling out ECG feature.

Washington Post:

You can’t put a price on loyalty. Just kidding, it’s $1,000.

And:

For some perspective, we charted out the past few years of prices on a few iconic Apple products. Then we compared them with other brands and some proprietary data about Americans’ phone purchase habits from mobile analytics firm BayStreet Research.

What we learned: Being loyal to Apple is getting expensive. Many Apple product prices are rising faster than inflation — faster, even, than the price of prescription drugs or going to college. Yet when Apple offers cheaper options for its most important product, the iPhone, Americans tend to take the more expensive choice. So while Apple isn’t charging all customers more, it’s definitely extracting more money from frequent upgraders.

And:

Not everything Apple has gone up in price: An entry-level iMac and iPad have gotten cheaper since 2014, though in both cases the company has since added a new higher-end (and higher-price) “Pro” version to its lineup.

This piece is full of interesting data. Be sure to stop and process the graphics. And keep reading. One core point that struck home for me:

Most technology products are commodities that go down in price over time. Apple has worked very hard not to become a commodity.

And that’s it exactly. It’s become harder and harder over time to distinguish all those Windows laptops and Android phones, one from another. Apple continues to pour R&D dollars into ensuring the uniqueness of its products.

If people stop buying into the Apple ecosystem, if Apple Stores stop being so crowded, that’d surely shift Apple’s pricing strategy. As is, seems like Apple has their pricing strategy well tuned.

December 6, 2018

MacStories:

Today, with the release of watchOS 5.1.2, Apple has shipped the ECG app. As we explained in the MacStories Series 4 overview, the ECG functionality is enabled by new hardware including a new titanium electrode built into the Digital Crown.

Apple’s ECG sensor is notable because it’s the first of its kind available over the counter to consumers. ECG results taken with the Apple Watch are stored in the Health app, from which they can be exported as a PDF for sharing with your physician.

You folks lucky enough to have an Apple Watch 4 should let us know what you think about this app.

The story of the band Queen: “Mercury Rising”

This is the story of one of the most iconic rock bands in the world, from the very beginning through to the sad demise of Freddie Mercury in 1991. Through classic archive footage and some of their greatest hits and interviews with Brian May and the likes of Paul Gambaccini, their incredible and unique story is told. This is the story of Queen.

What a great documentary about a great band.

Microsoft takes on the iPad in their Surface Go holiday ad

Treacly snarky. Cloyingly awful. Includes the line “Grandma don’t run out and buy an iPad”. I kid you not.

Microsoft, you can do so much better.

And don’t miss that shot, right at the very end, showing Grandma and our star in the Microsoft Store. They are the only customers at that end of the store. This rang true to me. Do you ever see a shot of an open Apple Store that is not crowded?

Tim Hardwick, MacRumors:

The feature is part of Apple’s Do Not Disturb at Bedtime mode, which prevents notifications from being displayed on your iPhone’s Lock Screen when you’re supposed to be sleeping.

Many users don’t realize you can get the weather forecast to show on the Lock Screen because of the odd way that Apple has implemented the feature. Regardless, here’s how to get it working.

Coincidentally, I posted this on Twitter this morning:

As is, getting the current temp on your lock screen is a bit of a one-off. I’d love something like an Apple Watch complication on my lock screen, something I can feed from one of my apps, something I can customize.

Some might argue that with the advent of Face ID, the lock screen is dead. Perhaps, but I would argue for the usefulness of the lock screen as a status page before you move on to the busy, populated Springboard interface. And the lock screen requires no gestures, it is effortless. Just raise to wake.

Be warned, this is a rabbit hole of a read, a real time suck. But so, so fascinating.

John Gruber, on the iOS App Store story about Procreate Pocket:

The whole story is only seven paragraphs long, and one of them is devoted to explaining how to invoke Undo and Redo. This is — inadvertently on the part of the App Store editorial team — a scathing indictment of the state of iOS’s user interface standards.

Not sure scathing indictment is quite right, but I do get the point. Part of what makes a Mac a Mac is that dogged consistency that has held up over many years of evolution. Command-Q to quit an app, Command-P to print, Command-C and Command-V to copy and paste and, in this instance, Command-Z to undo.

John’s point carries much further than undo. Look at the way iOS gestures have evolved from generation to generation. As we move from a home button to none, from typing a passcode, to Touch ID, and on to Face ID, the bedrock gestures have changed as well. Move from one generation of device to another and the basic interactions have changed.

Part of this is, Apple is still tinkering with some foundational iOS underpinnings. But part of this is also a testament to the genius of the designers who crafted that early Mac interface. Such insight, such vision.

From Apple’s official product page:

Thin, light, and easy to grip — this case lets you enjoy the look of iPhone XR while providing extra protection. It’s also crafted with a blend of optically clear polycarbonate and flexible TPU materials, so the case fits right over the buttons for easy use. On the surface, a scratch-resistant coating has been applied not only to the exterior, but also to the interior. Need to wirelessly charge? Just leave the case on your iPhone and set it on your Qi-certified charger.

Puzzling why it took this long. Available for delivery Monday December 11, for pickup Tuesday December 12.

December 5, 2018

Officials say Apple’s claim of ‘studio quality’ portraits on iPhone X, Xs isn’t misleading

DP Review:

Two challenges to Apple’s claim that its iPhone X can shoot studio quality portraits have been turned down by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The complainants took issue with Apple’s advertising line that the phone could deliver ‘Studio-quality portraits […] Without the studio’ and believed consumers would misled, but after an investigation the ASA found that the statement was fair.

The basis of the findings is that there isn’t clear definition of what ‘studio quality’ means, and that there is a wide variety of talent in the studio photography industry that meant that the term didn’t necessarily indicate that a ‘studio quality’ portrait was a good one. Rather, the ASA agreed with Apple that the Portrait Lighting effects, the depth-of-field mimicking software and the inclusion of a standard, instead of a wide, focal length meant that the characteristics of a ‘studio’ portrait could be achieved. The investigation also found that the effects shown in the Apple adverts could indeed be produced with the phone at the time of shooting or post capture.

When I first saw these ads I thought professional photographers might take issue with Apple’s claims.

Vulture:

More than 20 years later, Scream is still scary. And everything that makes it great is on display in its electric opening scene: a twisted game of horror trivia, a beautiful girl, a pair of gruesome murders, a telephone ringing in an isolated house at night.

For Vulture’s package on the 100 Scares That Shaped Horror, Williamson shared the story behind how he conceived of the film’s iconic opening scene.

We watched Scream in October for Halloween with the 13-year-old. It was wonderfully scary for him.

From this Reddit post, watch the video, see if you think one copied the other (hint, one of these product videos made its first appearance last month).

For me, the big “wow” moment was at about 1:20 in.

Another one of those tip lists where you’ll likely know most of what’s presented. But there’s that one tip that makes the read worthwhile. Take a look.

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, The Daily Dot:

Tumblr and Twitter are already full of screencaps showing random posts mislabeled as explicit material. In some cases, you can kind of see how the mistake happened (for instance, art with partial but non-sexual nudity, or images that a bot might mistake for a human body), but there’s also a ton of content that appears to have been flagged at random.

Some are G-rated or abstract art, which suggests an immediate problem for the many illustrators who use Tumblr as a portfolio site. Others are everyday photos like this person’s gallery of dinosaur pics.

Just scroll through the article, look at all the examples of innocuous posts labeled NSFW.

Hard to see this as anything other than a self-made disaster for Tumblr. Not too late to reverse course.

Just start reading. A terrific story about Google’s very first employee, and the likeminded friend he made in the early days of Google.

This is one of those, grab a beverage, put your feet up, relax and settle in kind of reads. Enjoy.

Gimlet Media:

Twenty years ago, Steve Jobs had an idea: he wanted to build an Apple store. Something sleek and iconic and unlike anything else in retail. But he had no idea how to do it. So he called someone who might: retail genius Ron Johnson. Ron tells Alex the story of what it was like to work with Steve and help transform Apple into a household name. And Ron talks about life after Apple—which included a huge and humbling failure.

And:

The story of how Ron Johnson built the Apple store into the iconic institution it is today is a fascinating one. First, because of the way Ron Johnson came to Apple. It wasn’t the usual route, through computer engineering and Silicon Valley. He came by a very different path, and nevertheless ended up forming a deep, and fascinating partnership with Steve Jobs, which he talks in very candid detail in our interview. But I also wanted to talk to Ron because of what he did after his time at Apple.

Terrific interview, lots of Steve Jobs sprinkled throughout.

You can listen to the interview via the embedded Megaphone stream, or read the transcript embedded below that.

Side note 1: I am a big fan of Gimlet Media. If you are interested in starting a business, or just startups in general, I’d strongly recommend the StartUp Podcast. StartUp is both the first Gimlet podcast and the actual story of how Gimlet came to be. A fascinating listen. If you’ve ever heard of This American Life, you’ll be surprised at the origin story.

Side note 2: The link to this interview came from Michael Tsai’s blog. I check this one every day. Terrific.

Patently Apple:

There’s a common misunderstanding among business owners that songwriters are only compensated by the purchase of their CDs, so that a business owner can freely play copyrighted music for customers. Not so, and Apple’s new trademark filing for ‘Apple Music for Business’ indicates that Apple will be entering this new business avenue for Apple music in the future as the company seeks to expand their services businesses.

An Apple Music for Business subscription, assuming it turns out to be reasonably priced, would be good for small businesses, give them an easy way to play music for their customers that is properly copyrighted.

And, presumably, it would be good for artists, who would be compensated by the service, getting something, rather than the nothing they get when a business plays a playlist.

December 4, 2018

Fraser Speirs, in a post titled On Switching from an iPad Pro and a Macbook to a Pixelbook (via Michael Tsai’s excellent blog):

Fast forward to 2018 and virtually all of the work I do at school is now in Google Docs. I don’t think I’ve created anything new outside Google Docs for a couple of years now.

I do use Google Docs, and most of the simple documents I create live either there, or in some form of Markdown editor (almost always in BBEdit).

But I do a lot more creating than simple documents. I take lots of photos, mark them up, screenshots, too. I share these images in all sorts of social media. I draw pictures, though quite inexpertly, and share those as well. And there’s programming. Most of that is done on a Mac in Xcode.

And most of my communication is via apps. And a lot of that communication involves “creating”, since I consider writing to be creating. And, of course, there’s music, via Garage Band or Logic.

I find it interesting that though Google Docs does own a ton of mindshare for simple documents, once creativity enters the picture, the more I rely on my Mac, iPad, and iPhone.

Peter Bright, Ars Technica:

Oath, the Verizon subsidiary that owns the Yahoo and AOL digital media brands, has announced that as of December 17, all adult content will be banned from the Tumblr blogging site. Any still or moving images displaying real-life human genitals or female nipples and any content—even drawn or computer-generated artwork—depicting any sexual acts will be prohibited.

Here’s a link to the Tumblr Help Center post that lays all this out.

On how much of Tumblr is dedicated to porn:

Nowadays, pornography represents a substantial element of Tumblr’s content. A 2013 estimate said that around 11 percent of the site’s 200,000 most-visited domains were porn, and some 22 percent of inbound links were from adult sites.

Supposedly, the porn detection will all be automated. That’s an oddly specific machine learning problem to solve. I can’t help but think that oddly specific knowledge will wind up getting used outside of Tumblr. What could go wrong?

I really miss the custom holiday cards (iCards) and photo books the Apple used to offer. They made some very special gifts.

If you are looking for a special gift idea for this holiday season, 9to5Mac’s Michael Potuck has your back. Be sure to check out the ratings for each solution. Some of these solutions seem much better than others.

Chance Miller, 9to5Mac:

Apple now offers a way to view and download all of the data it has collected from you over the years. Australian developer Pat Murray has created an incredibly interesting tool that is able to visualize your Apple Music year in review.

Interesting article. And the tool to which Chance refers is web-based. Follow the instructions, download your music history, submit the file to the web tool, dig into the results.

Apple:

The typical audio environment for HomePod has many challenges — echo, reverberation, and noise. Unlike Siri on iPhone, which operates close to the user’s mouth, Siri on HomePod must work well in a far-field setting. Users want to invoke Siri from many locations, like the couch or the kitchen, without regard to where HomePod sits.

This is both a detailed and fascinating look at how Apple uses machine learning to get your HomePod to recognize that Siri trigger phrase (which I would love to be able to change, someday.)

Yes, there’s a lot of detail, but if you just skip through the dense stuff, I found some interesting nuggets, like:

The corruption of target speech by other interfering talkers is challenging for both speech enhancement and recognition.

And:

When “Hey Siri” is detected, each stream is assigned a goodness score. The stream with the highest score is selected and sent to Siri for speech recognition and task completion.

And on testing HomePod:

We evaluated the performance of the proposed speech processing system on a large speech test set recorded on HomePod in several acoustic conditions:

  • Music and podcast playback at different levels
  • Continuous background noise, including babble and rain noise
  • Directional noises generated by household appliances such as a vacuum cleaner, hairdryer, and microwave
  • Interference from external competing sources of speech

Bottom line, HomePod is ever-vigilant, constantly solving, in real-time, an incredibly difficult problem, and doing it really well.