February 19, 2015

Border Collie wins 2015 Westminster agility contest

I love Border Collies. They are the smartest dogs in the world.

Eric Clapton has been tapped for induction into the Blues Hall of Fame for his many musical achievements as well as for his role as a popularizer of the entire genre. He brought the blues to audiences in his native Britain and throughout the world, illuminating the work of the original blues artists who inspired him.

Well deserved.

Buzzfeed:

The snow in Boston may have been bad, but wait until you see what’s going on in Canada.

The amazing amount of snow in my and The Loop’s Publisher’s home province and other areas of Eastern Canada is reminiscent of what I remember seeing frequently as a kid. When you’re young, this amount of snow is magical. Thanks to Nicole Dalrymple for the link!

Digg:

When you leave a movie theater, you’re probably not thinking, “Man, the sound in that movie was mixed perfectly.”

Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you’re bad at watching movies. The sound mix in a movie – the combination of the dialogue, soundtrack and sound effects – is designed to be unobtrusive. As one sound mixer put it to me, as soon as the audience notices something slightly off in the mix, “you’ve lost them.”

I love this behind the scenes stuff, especially about subjects most of us have heard of but have no clue what actually happens.

The new York Times:

A month ago, I felt that I was in good health, even robust health. At 81, I still swim a mile a day. But my luck has run out — a few weeks ago I learned that I have multiple metastases in the liver. Nine years ago it was discovered that I had a rare tumor of the eye, an ocular melanoma. Although the radiation and lasering to remove the tumor ultimately left me blind in that eye, only in very rare cases do such tumors metastasize. I am among the unlucky 2 percent.

Beautifully written but no less heartbreaking.

Federicco Viticci, writing for MacStories:

All About Apple, an Italian non-profit organization that’s been operating for over a decade, has launched a crowdfunding campaign for All About Apple Museum, the “most comprehensive” exhibition of Apple and Apple-related products with over 9,000 pieces in its collection. The organization has assembled a team of volunteers and has been granted permission to use a new location in Savona, Italy, and they’re seeking funds to finish the project.

The museum has reached its first funding goal (no doubt in part, at least, thanks to Federicco’s publicity) and is now pushing towards its first stretch goal. Looking forward to a visit once the museum is up and running. In case you are interested in making the trek out there, Savona is in the northwest of Italy, on the Ligurian Sea, to the west of Genoa.

Here’s a link to the English-language museum page.

Handcrafting a guitar

A gorgeous walk through the process of handcrafting a guitar.

Wall Street Journal:

LoopPay’s technology, however, purports to sidestep one obstacle that has so far hindered the wide adoption of mobile-payment services: the need for merchants to have to upgrade their checkout devices. Instead, LoopPay says its magnetic induction technology allows a smartphone to be tapped against the magnetic-stripe-reader machine that is already found in Samsung’s service, which is expected to be launched when Samsung unveils its Galaxy S6 smartphone in Barcelona in about a week’s time, would allow a consumer to register credit, debit, gift and loyalty cards onto a Samsung smartphone, and use the handset to make purchases, instead of carrying the cards in a physical wallet.

First things first, this time Samsung has gone too far. Jim put so much effort into his Heineken based mobile payment service which (I have this under the highest authority) he was going to call LoopPay.

Kidding aside, LoopPay uses a magnetic field to interface with existing magnetic strip readers. In effect, it allows a phone to mimic an actual credit card and is said to work with most existing card readers, meaning merchants won’t have to make any changes to accept LoopPay.

From a WSJ blog post that lays out the mechanics:

To use LoopPay, first you register your existing credit cards in its app (as many cards as you like). Once you’ve done that, you can pay by opening the app, tapping in your LoopPay-specific PIN, selecting your card and then holding your phone close to the merchant’s card swipe slot. When you do, most machines will recognize LoopPay’s magnetic signal as a swipe, and the transaction will proceed.

You can also remove your LoopPay fob from the phone if it’s easier to just hand it to the merchant—the cashier just needs to press a physical button on the dongle. The signal emits from the dongle, so it can even work when your phone’s battery has died. Of course, Samsung hasn’t said much yet about how it might implement LoopPay in its phones, but I could imagine there will be differences with the software and hardware.

Though I do like the fact that the technology can work with existing card readers, this seems like a short sighted system to me. It does not solve the security problem and it is far less convenient to use. You have to open an app and type in a pin.

With Apple Pay, you hold your finger on the Touch ID sensor, tap the merchant terminal, wait for the confirmation beep (which happens almost instantaneously) and boom, you’re done. And, unless I’ve missing something here, Apple Pay offers security that is head and shoulders beyond that of LoopPay.

Short term, LoopPay is an interesting alternative to pulling your credit card out of your wallet, if you have the right piece of hardware. Samsung is betting that LoopPay is enough of a draw to get you to invest in the next generation Samsung phone. Obviously, Apple is doing the same. It’s a horse race, of a sorts. But in this race, time favors Apple. Once Apple Pay acceptance hits a critical mass, compatibility with legacy merchant terminals will be less of an issue and ease of use and security will become the driving factors. And Apple Pay wins that one, hands down.

New York Times:

Electric-car battery maker A123 Systems has sued Apple Inc for poaching top engineers to build a large-scale battery division, according to a court filing that offered further evidence that the iPhone maker may be developing a car.

Apple has been poaching engineers with deep expertise in car systems, including from Tesla Inc, and talking with industry experts and automakers with the ultimate aim of learning how to make its own electric car, an auto industry source said last week.

The lawsuit is interesting, but more notable is the evidence this lends to the possibility of an Apple car of some sort. If Apple is building an automotive software platform, a Car OS, why would they need battery expertise?

The Guardian:

John Browett, the former Dixons boss who was ousted from Apple after six months, is stepping down from Monsoon, the fashion chain he joined two years ago.

Browett replaced Ron Johnson at Apple and was replaced by Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Retail and Online Sales. Browett’s run at Apple was short:

Browett was a high flyer at Tesco before leaving to head up Dixons where he is credited with kicking off a turnaround at the PC World and Currys chains. He was poached to head up Apple’s retail division in 2012 but only six months later he was ousted by the technology group’s boss Tim Cook. Staff apparently disliked his efforts to make them more profit-driven rather than simply focusing on customer service.

[Hat tip to Loop reader David Leech]

February 18, 2015

That may be why I’ve been getting a lot of questions from developers and designers regarding what I’d like to see from Apple Watch apps. After thinking about it for a good long while, the list turns out to be pretty straightforward.

Rene Ritchie has a good list of things to look out for when designing for the wrist. Like Rene, I’ve been getting a lot of questions on this too. We’re in for some interesting times.

In the first episode of “Behind the App”, a special series of Inquisitive, we take a look at the beginnings of iOS app development, by focusing on the introduction of the iPhone and the App Store.

Congrats to my friend, Myke Hurley, on his new show.

This pretty much marked the end of The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Over a series of late October days, camera operators working on an episode of ABC’s “Modern Family” set aside their typical high-definition videocameras and picked up iPhones. The command “Action!” was followed by a tap of that familiar red button on the device’s small video screen.

The result, which will be shown next Wednesday, Feb. 25, is an episode shot almost exclusively on mobile devices, an approximation of the way that many actual modern American families (of a certain class) communicate today.

This is truly amazing. Not just that it’s being shot with iPhones, many filmmakers are doing that, but that such a popular show has that much confidence in the quality and capabilities of an iPhone.

“I think somebody is kind of trying to cough up a hairball here,” Akerson said in a telephone interview. “If I were an Apple shareholder, I wouldn’t be very happy. I would be highly suspect of the long-term prospect of getting into a low-margin, heavy-manufacturing” business.

Recognizing that this is merely a rumor, I have two thoughts here: First, Apple is aware of all of this. Second, it’s Apple—they were probably warned against making a phone too, but they did it. Apple is going to enter markets it believes it can dominate in some fashion—markets that need changing and where they can break the status quo.

February 17, 2015

Apple, Beats win customer satisfaction survey

It will probably not come as a great surprise to learn that Apple won in a number of categories for 2015 customer satisfaction survey. The study, conducted by market research brand keys, also gave Apple subsidiary Beats an award as well.

It appears Apple pretty much cleaned up in its categories. According to Brand Keys, Apple won in the laptop, smartphone and tablet categories for 2015. Apple was followed by Samsung, Lenovo, LG, Sony, Motorola, Nokia, and Blackberry. There’s not much of a surprise in the order of companies following Apple either.

Beats won in the headphone category, which is a surprise for me—Beats aren’t really that good, but this is about satisfaction, not quality. Beats was followed by Bose, Sony, JVC/Parrot (Tie), Rocketfish/Audio-Technica/Panasonic (Tie), Apple, Maxell/Monster/Skull Candy (Tie), and Egghead/Pioneer (Tie).

For the 2015 survey, 36,605 consumers, 18 to 65 years of age from the nine US Census Regions, self-selected the categories in which they are consumers, and the brands for which they are customers. Seventy (70%) percent were interviewed by phone, twenty-five (25%) percent via face-to-face interviews (to identify and include cell phone-only households), and 5% online.

Good rundown of apps and audio interfaces for iOS devices from Charlie Sorrel. I’ve used most of these at one time or another over the last few years.

A scathing critique of Michael Bromwich, the lawyer overseeing Apple after it lost an iBooks antitrust lawsuit, alleges that he has unfairly billed the company some $2.65 million for investigative practices that have gone well beyond the initial intent of his role.

This is just awful.

Zakk Wylde talks Wylde Audio

I’m looking forward to getting my hands on this gear.

Macworld:

DiskWarrior does one thing, and does it well: it optimizes and repairs disk directories, which contain the information that tells your Mac where files are stored on the disks attached to it. If directories become corrupted, you can lose files. While your data may still be on a disk, the Mac is no longer capable of finding it. DiskWarrior works both as preventive medicine—to fix errors before they become serious—and to correct more serious errors and help recover files when things get really bad.

I am no longer a professional Mac Consultant but, when I was, DiskWarrior was an indispensable tool. I still highly recommend it.

EngageCustomer.com:

France, Germany and Spain all favour Apple devices when opening emails. 47% of emails in France are opened on an Apple device, 46% in Germany and 47% in Spain. Italy, in contrast, saw a decrease of 44% year-on-year in the use of iPhones to read emails. Yet Apple products remain the most used in Italy overall with 50% of emails opened on an Apple device, including a 15% increase in the use of iPad.

Even more remarkably:

Email open rates on Android devices dropped 30% year-on-year while total opens on iPads and iPhones increased by 18% and 5% respectively.

[Hat tip to Stu Mark]

Wall Street Journal:

Apple is gearing up for a strong start. People familiar with the matter said the company is asking suppliers in Asia to make five million to six million Apple Watches in the first quarter.

First quarter translates to this April through the end of June. If these numbers are correct, supply shouldn’t be an issue unless Apple sells many, many boatloads of Apple Watch.

ABI Research estimates that Apple will sell 11.8 million Apple Watches in 2015, accounting for nearly half of all wearable devices, including fitness trackers and non-Android smartwatches.

“People have left the door open for Apple. The others haven’t done a great job here yet,” said Nick Spencer, an analyst at ABI Research.

Amen to that last bit. None of the current crop knocks me out design-wise. Add to that the simple fact that no other watch will have access to the Apple Watch APIs and iOS ecosystem. No other watch will be able to play in this space.

When Apple Inc. started developing its smartwatch, executives envisioned a state-of-the-art health-monitoring device that could measure blood pressure, heart activity and stress levels, among other things, according to people familiar with the matter.

But none of those technologies made it into the much-anticipated Apple Watch, due in April. Some didn’t work reliably. Others proved too complex. And still others could have prompted unwanted regulatory oversight, these people said.

We are about to enter into the same universe of planned obsolescence as the iPhone. Unlike a traditional watch, the Apple Watch will have a shelf life. Just like the iPhone, the hardware will age as miniaturization makes its way into new areas and new components/sensors become available. The hardware will become less performant as the OS itself matures, evolves, takes advantage of new hardware.

At the same time, the healthcare industry will evolve to embrace the brave new world of wearable sensors. The logjam here (at least in the US) is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA is there to protect privacy, prevent fraud. HIPAA is necessary, but is a wall that sits between your watch/phone and your doctor.

As both sides evolve, more and more of the sensors that currently sit in your doctor’s office will make their way into your pocket and your wrist. Ultimately, this means that each successive generation of Apple Watch will render previous generations obsolete. And that fact is yet another of the many factors that distinguishes the Apple Watch from traditional timepieces.

February 16, 2015

Racked:

It’s pure arrogance for Silicon Valley to imagine that it can make wearables cool by hiring a few fashion people, putting the product on a runway, or throwing money at “collaborations” with brands. This is a new game they’re trying to play, one with different rules. The rollout of the Apple Watch would look much different if it were orchestrated by a brand like Chanel. Instead of being released at $350, it would hit stores with a price tag in the thousands. Consumers would clamor to get their hands on one, only to be stymied by limited runs, which would further stoke desire. Only after a few years of artificial scarcity would it enjoy wider release.

I have the fashion sense of a hobo so I have no idea if this piece is an accurate portrayal or not but it is an interesting take on the subject.

Screens is a beautiful, yet powerful VNC client for iOS and Mac that lets you connect back to your computer from the comfort of your living room, the corner coffee shop or anywhere in the world.

Until the end of the month, we’re happy to offer 20% off Screens for Mac to the readers of The Loop. Simply use this link to save!

Jim’s Note: I’ve used Screens for Mac and iOS since they were first released. I love them both.

You might know most of these, but chances are you don’t know all of them. I didn’t.

My favorite:

Most people probably type a number or a symbol by tapping the 123 button, tapping the number or symbol you want to type, and then tapping 123 again to go back to the letter keyboard. But there’s a much faster way. Instead, touch the 123 key and hold your finger down on the screen. Without lifting your finger, move it to the symbol or number you want to type and then lift it from the screen.

This trick also works for the Shift key — touch your finger to the Shift key, move it to a letter, and you’ll quickly get the appropriate capital letter.

Nice!

Dan Thorp-Lancaster, writing for iMore:

Good news for people wanting to use Apple’s productivity software: starting tonight, anyone, with or without a Mac or iOS device, will be able to create an Apple ID and sign in to the iCloud beta website to start using Pages, Numbers, and Keynote for free.

When users visit beta.icloud.com, they will be presented with a banner at the top of the page prompting them to create an Apple ID. Afterwards, in addition to gaining access to Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, the free accounts will also grant 1GB of free cloud storage to users.

Great idea. This brings people outside the ecosystem into the fold, adds them to the Apple ID rolls, expands the base of iWork users.

Jean-Louis Gassée, writing for Monday Note:

Yes, Apple has plenty of money, but the century-old auto industry doesn’t seem like a good way to make more of it. Ford, the healthiest US car company, made $835M in net income last quarter, less than 4% of their $34B in sales. Compare that number to Apple’s record-breaking $18B profit. Tesla, Apple’s supposed rival in the fantasy blogs, pulled in a little less than $1B last quarter, and it lost about 10% of that. There isn’t an inkling of an explanation for why and how a superior product designed and built by Apple would bring superior returns.

And:

Apple’s life today is relatively simple. It sells small devices that are easily transported back to the point of sale for service if needed. No brake lines to flush, no heavy and expensive batteries and cooling systems, no overseeing the installation and maintenance of home and public chargers. And consider the trouble Tesla faces with entrenched auto dealers who oppose Tesla selling cars directly in some states. Apple doesn’t need these headaches.

Fair points, both. An Apple based on small, portable products is a winning formula. Manufacturing heavy, durable goods would certainly be a lengthy stride outside the ecosystem.

This long form New Yorker piece explores, side-by-side with Sir Jony, the past present and future of Apple. There’s plenty to process. Like this:

At Jobs’s memorial, which was held on the lawn at Infinite Loop, Ive said, “Steve used to say to me—and he used to say this a lot—‘Hey, Jony, here’s a dopey idea.’ And sometimes they were: really dopey. Sometimes they were truly dreadful. But sometimes they took the air from the room, and they left us both completely silent. Bold, crazy, magnificent ideas. Or quiet, simple ones which, in their subtlety, their detail, they were utterly profound.” Ive said to me, “I couldn’t be more mindful of him. How could I not, given our personal relationship, and given that I’m still designing in the same place, at the same table, where I spent the last fifteen years with him sat next to me?”

And:

If Jobs and Ive had a father-son dynamic, Ive and Cook seem like respectful cousins.

And:

“The job of the designer is to try to imagine what the world is going to be like in five or ten years,” Newson told me. “You’re thinking, What are people going to need?” In 2011, largely thanks to advances in the miniaturization of technology, the answer seemed to be a wearable notification device paired to a phone—making it yet simpler to exchange messages of love, or tardiness. That summer, Google made an eight-pound prototype of a computer worn on the face. To Ive, then unaware of Google’s plans, “the obvious and right place” for such a thing was the wrist. When he later saw Google Glass, Ive said, it was evident to him that the face “was the wrong place.”

A magnificent read.

February 15, 2015
On February 15, 1965, our national flag was raised for the first time on Parliament Hill. Canada was just two years away from centennial celebrations when the maple leaf flag was made official by Royal Proclamation. In 1996, February 15 was declared National Flag of Canada Day and has been observed every year since.

February 15, 2015, will mark the 50th anniversary of the National Flag of Canada. This special Flag Day is the perfect opportunity to learn more about how our flag was created and what it means to us.

I love my country and I’m very proud of our flag and what it stands for. Thanks to John Kordyback for the link.

Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin file to sell 4 million shares of their Google stock

Here’s a link to Google’s SEC form 8-K filing, laying out Page and Brin’s joint stock sale plan, filed Friday.

To give a sense of perspective, before the filing, Page and Brin together held approximately 54.6% of the voting shares of Google stock. If they follow the plan and sell all eligible shares, they will still, collectively, own approximately 52% of the voting shares.

That might seem insignificant. But wait.

As I read it (and the wording is a bit cryptic, so I could be off here), the plan calls for Page and Brin to sell, jointly, four million shares of stock. Four million shares. At Friday’s close of $549.01, that’s $2.2 billion. That is a huge amount of money.

One takeaway from all this is the massive amount of money a company like Google represents. Page and Brin are not ceding control of Google (they will still, together, own more than 50% of the voting shares). This is about diversifying their holdings:

These pre-arranged stock trading plans were adopted in order to allow Larry and Sergey to sell a portion of their Google stock over time as part of their long-term strategies for individual asset diversification and liquidity. The stock transactions pursuant to these plans will be disclosed publicly through Form 4 and Form 144 filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Using these plans, they will diversify their investment portfolios and spread stock trades out over an extended period of time to reduce market impact. Because these plans were established well in advance of any trade being made pursuant to them, they also help avoid concerns about whether these officers had material, non-public information when they made a decision to sell their stock.

Interesting.