August 7, 2018

Josh Centers talks through USB Restricted Mode, the politics of opening a backdoor into iOS, and the mechanics of breaking into an iPhone via the Lightning port.

Bottom line:

If USB Restricted Mode isn’t causing you any trouble, leave it on. Although it doesn’t offer complete protection against an alert attacker who can get access to your device quickly, it’s not worthless. Once your device has been locked for more than 60 minutes, nothing we know of can crack it.

Wonderful look at Apple’s iOS 12 rewrite of Books from MacStories’ Ryan Christoffel.

A personal note here: I have long purchased my books from Amazon’s Kindle Store, but this read, combined with my short-lived, unsatisfying dive into the Kindle Unlimited program has made me reconsider this habit.

One thing I look forward to, and not mentioned in the article, is the ability to share Apple’s Books with my family using iCloud Family Sharing. As a family, we often share books and we are already on this plan. [Amazon has something similar called Households, but it it is limited to two adults, so your kids will age out over time.] The family plan is a real boon for us. Something to consider.

One note on sharing from Ryan:

One thing Goodreads offers that Apple Books does not is a social component. An Apple Music-style social sharing feature would be a nice fit for Books, but there’s nothing of the sort here.

I love the idea here. I am constantly looking for new read recommendations, especially from friends who share my taste in books. And I see “reading the same book at the same time” as a very social activity, something rife with potential that rarely gets any treatment in the tech universe.

Nice backgrounder on Tim Cook from Emma Sims, Australia’s PC Authority. One highlight:

Under Cook’s stewardship, the firm has increased its donations to charity, something Cook has vowed to do himself; the CEO plans to donate his stock fortune in its entirety (thought to be in the region of $US120 million) to charity.

That’s commitment to one’s beliefs and yet another reason to admire Tim Cook.

[H/T Dman]

Mihir A. Desai, New York Times:

Sure, Apple produces innovative phones and laptops, but look inside its sleek exterior and you’ll find an elegant financial machine that has become the ideal for corporate America. Without investing significantly in hard assets, Apple spins cash and returns it to shareholders at a stunning rate. It’s difficult not to admire.

And:

Six years ago, the company owed no debt and had never undertaken a share buyback or paid dividends. Pressured by a shareholder revolt in 2013, it is now transformed.

And:

Apple has conducted its buybacks responsibly: It bought shares when they were relatively cheap, rewarding the patient shareholder. Other companies have not been so prudent, taking on debt to make ill-timed purchases of expensive shares rather than investing in growth opportunities. In some cases, they have done so simply to push up share prices so that management can meet goals for quarterly earnings or metrics that trigger compensation.

Good read. Apple is truly a remarkable company.

This is a fun read from Jean-Louis Gassée about Apple’s rise to the 13-digit club.

A few bits, just to whet your appetite:

While Apple employees deserve to bask in the market’s recognition of their good work, the thing that really counts is “making a dent in the universe”, as Steve Jobs memorably said. To name but a few, the invention of products such as the Macintosh, the iPod, and the iPhone; the creation of attractive and lucrative platforms for app developers (who deserve their own recognition for helping Apple reach the big T); an unrivaled supply chain management system… These are the things that have propelled Apple, occasional warts included, to the top of the industry.

And:

How did Apple get to $1T with such a poor price-to-earnings ratio (P/E)? As you no doubt already know, P/E is the result of dividing the share price by the earnings per share (EPS). The higher the ratio, the more willing investors are to pay a higher price for today’s shares, assured by the promise of substantially higher earnings (EPS) in the future.

This is where we get into some intriguing comparisons. Microsoft’s P/E is a solid 48 and Alphabet’s hovers around 50…but Apple’s is a meager 17. Caricaturing just a bit: “Apple still trades like a steel mill going out of business.”

Ah, Jean-Louis, always a pleasure making my way through your Monday Notes.

August 6, 2018

Facebook Inc. wants your financial data.

The social-media giant has asked large U.S. banks to share detailed financial information about their customers, including card transactions and checking-account balances, as part of an effort to offer new services to users. [A WSJ subscription is required to read the story].

No. NO!

Chicago Magazine:

In the age of Amazon, few things represent an ethos more diametrically opposed to the “everything store” than the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog. Typing “socks” into Amazon’s search bar yields a seemingly infinite number of options. But the Hammacher Schlemmer spring catalog supplement offers only the Best Circulation Enhancing Travel Socks and the Plantar Fasciitis Foot Sleeves, 45 pages apart. There are no algorithmically predicted product placements or targeted suggestions.

The mere existence of Hammacher Schlemmer these days invites some fair, yet pointed, questions. Who’s buying this stuff? immediately pops to mind. As does: How has the company lasted this long? And: What kind of person sees the Wearable Mosquito Net and thinks, I must have this?

I’ve never bought a thing from Hammacher Schlemmer but I’ve always loved the weirdness of their catalogs.

Buzz Feed:

Some of the world’s largest social media and tech companies kicked Alex Jones and his conspiracy-theory driven show, InfoWars, off their platforms on Monday after months of hand-wringing about how to handle a personality who claimed he was delivering news but didn’t deal in facts.

Apple moved first, striking the entire library for five of Infowars’ six podcasts from its iTunes and Podcasts apps. After that, platforms that have come under far more scrutiny for hosting Jones and his content — Facebook and YouTube — quickly followed suit after long and tortured deliberations. Spotify also did the same.

This will be an understandably controversial move that won’t hurt Jones in the long run.

Sir Patrick Stewart revealing he’s returning to Star Trek

The news broke a few days ago that Sir Patrick Stewart was bringing Captain Jean-Luc Picard back to life in a new Star Trek series (details here).

I’m a big fan of SirPatStew, thrilled to see him continue this journey. Check out the video below for that moment when he revealed the news to some of his biggest fans.

Before you read on, take a look at that headline. Turns out, it’s a play on words and a reference to Tim Cook. The article is from 2008 and offers the conjecture that the then relatively unknown Tim Cook might be a replacement in the event Steve was forced to step down.

The most influential promoter of Steve Jobs’ indispensability, of course, is Steve Jobs. But another person who is very much with that program is the one executive who has actually filled in for Jobs as CEO. That would be Tim Cook, Apple’s chief operating officer and its interim chief executive for two months in 2004, when Jobs was recovering from cancer surgery.

“Come on, replace Steve? No. He’s irreplaceable,” Cook said recently, according to a person who knows him well. “That’s something people have to get over. I see Steve there with gray hair in his 70s, long after I’m retired.”

Came across this on Reddit this morning, found it a compelling read, especially in trillion dollar retrospect.

Jack Nicas, New York Times:

For decades, the district south of downtown and alongside San Francisco Bay here was known as either Rincon Hill, South Beach or South of Market. This spring, it was suddenly rebranded on Google Maps to a name few had heard: the East Cut.

The peculiar moniker immediately spread digitally, from hotel sites to dating apps to Uber, which all use Google’s map data. The name soon spilled over into the physical world, too. Real-estate listings beckoned prospective tenants to the East Cut. And news organizations referred to the vicinity by that term.

And:

The swift rebranding of the roughly 170-year-old district is just one example of how Google Maps has now become the primary arbiter of place names. With decisions made by a few Google cartographers, the identity of a city, town or neighborhood can be reshaped, illustrating the outsize influence that Silicon Valley increasingly has in the real world.

And:

Yet how Google arrives at its names in maps is often mysterious. The company declined to detail how some place names came about, though some appear to have resulted from mistakes by researchers, rebrandings by real estate agents — or just outright fiction.

I find this amazing. The way I read this, the Google Maps team has the power to come up with new neighborhood names and make them official, all without consult.

Why is Google doing this? Is this an experiment in localized branding? Simple mistakes? As always, follow the money.

Terrific read, with contributions from core players such as Andy Hertzfeld, Woz, John Sculley, Tony Fadell, and many more.

Bloomberg:

In Bengaluru’s busy Madiwala neighborhood, a Poorvika Mobile World shop is plastered with posters for Samsung and Xiaomi and filled with inexpensive phones from brands like China’s Oppo and Vivo. Off to one side is a forlorn display stand with the iPhone 6, 6s, and X, the latter sitting upside down. Despite a zero-interest payment plan and cash-back incentives, Apple Inc. is lucky if the iPhones account for 25 of the 1,000 smartphones the store sells each month, says manager Nagaraja B.C., who goes by one name. “The average budget of a shopper is about 10,000 rupees,” he says, roughly $150. The iPhone SE, the cheapest Apple model, costs almost twice that. For $100, shoppers can get a Xiaomi Redmi 5A with a bigger battery, better camera, and greater storage capacity.

And:

For years, Indian consumers have complained that Siri can’t process their requests in local languages, they have no access to Apple Pay, and Apple Maps can’t give them turn-by-turn directions or identify points of interest.

Apple has long been the high-priced spread, with a focus on tapping the moneyed crowd. The first quote above implies that the pricey iPhone is not a financial match for this particular market. The second quote seems more a result of that mismatch.

Once Apple figures out how to build product that fits this market, once they see the potential revenue here, Apple will no doubt apply their resources to solve the localization problem.

I love the title, well said, though that’s just a small part of a large, complex picture.

Two highlights:

“Steve Jobs created a loyalty with users that is unparalleled in the consumer technology world. What Tim Cook has done, he’s built a loyalty with shareholders,” Sculley said on “Squawk on the Street.”

And:

Whereas Jobs cultivated customer loyalty, based on incredible products, Cook used the Apple reputation to build a “brilliant business model,” Sculley said, adding that instead of inventing the best, new technology, Cook buys back stocks, hordes cash, and gives out dividends.

Read the article, watch the video.

August 4, 2018

Go into the Story:

100+ scripts made available by studios and production companies. Here are active studio and production company links to download scripts from the last 8 years. Since these links come and go, I would strongly recommend downloading them now.

I love reading movie scripts and there are a bunch here, including for the “Steve Jobs” movie, you can download as PDFs.

August 3, 2018

The Dalrymple Report: Dave Mark’s new MacBook Pro

Dave and I had a lot of fun today as we talked about his new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. We also took a look at Mac sales and iCloud storage limits.

Brought to you by:

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The Washington Post:

Last week, Tesla loaned me a Model 3 to review for The Washington Post. Over three days, I navigated the steep learning curve to operate this iPhone with wheels, and ended up convinced it is the car of the future. I also came away a bit concerned about our future.

Even if you’re not interested in owning a Model 3, don’t believe in electric cars, don’t like CEO Elon Musk, or don’t believe Tesla will survive to produce them for $35,000, Tesla is setting the agenda for the auto industry. The Model 3, through cellular, WiFi and Bluetooth connections, is constantly online in ways mass vehicles haven’t been before. Its computer, dashboard, key, motor, brakes, battery, power plug, and cameras (I could go on) are all sending and receiving data. Tesla is turning the car into the largest connected device you’ll own.

As a motorcyclist, this car and others that will come after it, terrify me. The “iPhone on wheels” is an awful and dangerous idea. Watch the video to get an idea of how obscenely huge and distracting that screen is.

Lisa Brennan-Jobs:

I tiptoed into my father’s room, careful to step over the creaky floorboard at the entrance. This room had been his study, when he could still climb the stairs, but he slept here now.

He was propped up in bed, wearing shorts. His legs were bare and thin as arms, bent up like a grasshopper’s.

Segyu Rinpoche stood beside him. He’d been around recently when I came to visit. A short Brazilian man with sparkling brown eyes, the Rinpoche was a Buddhist monk with a scratchy voice who wore brown robes over a round belly. We called him by his title. Near us, a black canvas bag of nutrients hummed with a motor and a pump, the tube disappearing somewhere under my father’s sheets.

This is an excerpt from Lisa’s upcoming memoir, Small Fry. I struggled a bit to read it. Not because of the prose, which is excellent, but simply because Steve means so much to me and I’m reliving him leaving.

Rachel Slade, Medium:

Improbably, AlterEgo, the soundless, voiceless, earbud-less device he’d been working on for the last two years had become adept enough at reading his thoughts that he could use it to order an Uber without saying a word.

And:

Kapur wants to perfect a device that allows users to communicate with A.I. as effortlessly as one’s left brain talks to one’s right brain, so that humans can integrate the power of the Internet into their thinking at every level.

And:

One night, Kapur and his brother were testing the device in their Cambridge apartment. Kapur was wearing the device and Shreyas was monitoring the computer screen. They’d rigged the device to track signals in real time so that Shreyas could note the exact moment it picked up something, if anything.

It was getting late. Kapur had been speaking silently into the device for a couple of hours — having programmed it to understand just two words: yes and no — without any meaningful results.

Then Shreyas thought he saw something. A blip on the screen.

To me, this is the sort of device that Big Tech ought to be building, something that allows you to interface with your personal AI and with the world it connects to, all without saying a word, by purposeful thinking.

There are dangers, of course, as those ad companies do their level best to connect directly with your brain. But still, I find this fascinating.

Bloomberg:

Now the business founded by Steve Jobs and his pal Steve Wozniak in a Los Altos garage in 1976 truly stands alone. Apple Inc.’s market capitalization was a paltry $3 billion when Jobs returned to the wounded company in 1996, after it had acquired his startup, NeXT. Passing the $1 trillion mark a little more than two decades later puts an exclamation point at the end of a remarkable run of success—one that started with Jobs’s introduction of the iMac, iPod, iPad, and, especially, the iPhone, and was extended by his successor, Tim Cook, who now presides over the most valuable business in modern history.

And:

Jobs took the stage in January 2007, during a now legendary appearance at MacWorld in San Francisco, and said in his usual pugilistic style that smartphones “are not so smart, and they’re not so easy to use.” The iPhone, he told us, “works like magic.”

Terrific read, though one with its share of snark, like so:

Thus was Apple’s winning formula refined: slick, simple products with hefty price tags, accompanied by splashy press events, mesmerizing advertising, and the numbing repetition of words like “amazing” and “phenomenal.”

And:

While the iPhone has altered daily life so much that no one remembers life before it, Apple has also persuaded customers to embrace other inventions they never knew they wanted, such as connected watches that buzz and beep (to cure the distraction of the phone, Apple says) and wireless dongles that hang ridiculously from their ears.

Still, an interesting essay, lots of images of people staring at their phones.

Barbara Davidson, NetCredit:

The United States is a comparatively young country, but one with a rich and diverse history. From the ancient villages of New Mexico’s Pueblo people and the early Spanish settlers in Florida, to the Russian traders of Alaska and 19th-century missionaries in Utah, each of the 50 states has its own story to tell.

Bucket list for me. I’d love to visit every one of these.

Jack Nicas, New York Times:

In 1997, Apple was on the ropes. The Silicon Valley pioneer was being decimated by Microsoft and its many partners in the personal-computer market. It had just cut a third of its work force, and it was about 90 days from going broke.

And:

On Thursday, Apple became the first publicly traded American company to be worth more than $1 trillion when its shares climbed 3 percent to end the day at $207.39.

And:

Apple’s ascent from the brink of bankruptcy to the world’s most valuable public company has been a business tour de force, marked by rapid innovation, a series of smash-hit products and the creation of a sophisticated, globe-spanning supply chain that keeps costs down while producing enormous volumes of cutting-edge devices.

A nice little rags-to-riches appreciation piece from the New York Times.

I’ve bought Apple stock a few different times over the years, just trying to be part of the company to which I’d hitched my wagon. One particular investment sticks out.

Apple was valued at about $12 a share (I believe it was in the late ’80s or early ’90s) and their book value was about $16 a share. In other words, Apple had hit a moment in time where the shareholders valued the company as less than the value Apple would have if they completely liquidated all their assets.

What a turnaround.

Apple hit the magic trillion dollar market valuation yesterday, and Tim Cook sent out an email to employees in appreciation. You can read the whole thing here.

August 2, 2018

Om Malik wrote a very interesting story today on time. I usually try to post a paragraph from the story to give you an idea of what you’re going to read, but this whole article is interesting, so just go read it.

Apple’s shift from shared passion to financial calculation

Joe Rossignol, MacRumors:

Apple on Tuesday reported that it sold 3.72 million Macs in its third quarter, which spanned April 1 through June 30, the fewest in any single quarter since it sold 3.47 million in the third quarter of 2010.

And:

There are a number of possible explanations for the decline, including consumers increasingly shifting towards the iPhone and iPad. Together, those devices accounted for 65 percent of Apple’s revenue last quarter, compared to just 10 percent for the Mac. Apple even markets the iPad as a computer replacement.

The bigger reason, however, may have been that nearly the entire Mac lineup was outdated last quarter. Beyond the iMac Pro, released four months before the quarter began, no other Mac had been updated since 2017 or earlier.

I find it no wonder that Mac sales are down. The only updated machines have been dogged by the keyboard reliability issue. As I said yesterday, I think the new warranty and anti-crumb membrane are enough to make me bullish on the new MacBook lineup.

The other Mac elements that need to line up here are the new Mac Pro and the Mac mini. The question is, does Apple truly care about the Mac as more than just a balance sheet line item?

Apple just killed the App Store Affiliate Program. Presumably, the goal there is to maximize services revenue.

Apple is holding fast to a paltry 5GB of iCloud base storage. Presumably, this goes to maximize services revenue as well.

Is this “maximize revenues” logic correct? Apple is not communicating any other message, even in the face of howls from their loyal base.

Is the Mac becoming an afterthought? Will we ever see a new Mac mini? How about a new Mac Pro? And what’s the status on the AirPower charging mat?

My two cents? I think Apple should come out and address all of this. I get playing cards close to the vest, but sometimes you need to let the troops know you feel their pain, give them reason to hope.

We’ve stuck with you through thick and thin. But more and more, the relationship is feeling more like financial calculation than shared passion. Just saying.

Chris MacAskill tells a wonderful story about General Magic and getting a device in Steve’s hands. Loved every bit of this.

Ran across this on Twitter (apologies for the lack of a hat tip, can’t find the original post).

Dan Luu:

I’ve had this nagging feeling that the computers I use today feel slower than the computers I used as a kid. As a rule, I don’t trust this kind of feeling because human perception has been shown to be unreliable in empirical studies, so I carried around a high-speed camera and measured the response latency of devices I’ve run into in the past few months. Here are the results.

Follow the link, check out the charts. Apple simply rocks at reducing latency.

Nick Heer:

My home computer in 1998 had a 56K modem connected to our telephone line; we were allowed a maximum of thirty minutes of computer usage a day, because my parents — quite reasonably — did not want to have their telephone shut off for an evening at a time. I remember webpages loading slowly: ten to twenty seconds for a basic news article.

And:

With an internet connection faster than I could have thought possible in the late 1990s, what’s the score now? A story at the Hill took over nine seconds to load; at Politico, seventeen seconds; at CNN, over thirty seconds. This is the bullshit web.

This is a tremendous read. I especially loved the take on AMP. Read it all the way to the end. Exceptional writing.

Thoughts on the Touch Bar (cost and function keys)

I just replaced my 2015 MacBook Pro with a brand new 2018 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. Lots has been written about Touch Bar over the last few years, so I’m going to focus on two things.

First, there seems to be a commonly held belief that the cost of the Touch Bar is $300. The logic is that the base cost of a 13″ 256GB MacBook Pro is $1499 and the base cost of the next model up is $1799.

Faulty logic. That $300 buys you a Touch Bar, sure, but you also get a faster processor (Dual core 3.6GHz bumped to quad core 3.8GHz), two extra Thunderbolt ports, better graphics, a True Tone display, and, biggest gain of all, a secure enclave and Touch ID. That’s a lot.

Better to think of Touch Bar as the new MacBook Pro default. Like it or not, Touch Bar is the new normal. Though you can buy a 15″ MacBook Pro without Touch Bar at your local Apple Store (old stock, clarify the model year before you buy one), you can’t buy one from Apple’s on-line store.

The second half of my Touch Bar ramblings concern the function keys replaced by the Touch Bar. I have long relied on the function keys, every one of which is tied to a KeyBoard Maestro macro. Those macros still work, but there are two problems I’ve not yet found a way to overcome.

The loss of a physical key means I can’t feel my way to, say, F2, without looking down at my keyboard. That breaks flow. There’s no way around it. I can tap the left most Touch Bar button (the escape key, in most cases) by feel, but my error rate soars the further from the left I go without looking down. It’d be like typing on my iPhone without looking at the keyboard. Maybe some people can do that, but I can’t, even after years of practice.

That aside, there’s a second problem. I can’t find a way to create a one-handed Touch Bar function key tap. To reveal the function keys, I need to touch the “fn” key in the lower left corner of the keyboard. To touch a function key, I need to look down and, in most cases, use my other hand to tap the function key. Compare that to my 2015 MacBook Pro. I can tap any of my function keys with any finger, all without looking down from the screen.

One solution is to use System Preferences to have the Touch Bar always and only display function keys. This works, kinda (no physical keys means loss of touch), but defeats the purpose of having the Touch Bar.

To be clear, I love the Touch Bar. I love the fact that I can touch and slide, all in one motion, to adjust screen brightness or volume. I love all the custom Touch Bar interfaces, customized for many of the applications I use. I would just like some way to set up a one handed set of customizable keys.

One idea: Is there a way to use the fn key as a modifier for non-function keys? For example, is there a way to tie a macro to, say, fn-z (z being so close to the fn key)? If so, I’d just replace all my function keys with the bottom row of my keyboard. As is, fn-z appears to just pass through as plain old “z”.

Marco Arment:

Sometimes, you just need Low Power Mode: the switch added to iOS a few years ago to conserve battery life when you need it, at the expense of full performance and background tasks.

There’s no such feature on Mac laptops, but there should be.

This is a fascinating read and this suggestion would be a perfect add to the System Preferences Energy Saver page.