May 17, 2016

From the folks who created the beautiful behind the scenes poster showing a cutaway of the original Mac, this litho is a gamer-themed street map made from the titles of over 500 video games and other references from the history of gaming. I will have this.

Chance Miller, writing for 9to5Mac:

A new report from CBC News details the progress being made to unlock the FM radio chip that many smartphones feature. Many smartphones have an untapped FM chip inside them that users are unable to take advantage of and while many Android devices are confirmed to have the chip, the iPhone also has despite Apple not officially recognizing it.

This is fascinating. I’d love a built-in FM radio in my iPhone. It’s not a critical feature, purely a nice-to-have. But flipping things around, I can’t imagine Apple or Google feeling great about exposing an FM radio as part of their device feature list. After all, bad reception would be seen by many as a flaw in the phone, and FM radio would be free content that would compete with paid offerings like Apple Music.

That said, I expect that if one side adopts and promotes FM, it’ll spread by necessity.

Brandon Chester, writing for AnandTech:

It’s really not difficult to come to a conclusion on the iPhone SE. It’s clearly the best 4-inch smartphone on the market, and you can ignore all of the specs when making that assessment because it achieves that by virtue of being the only offering at this size. For the sake of comparison, you can take a look at some Android devices that are larger than the SE, but smaller than your average Android smartphone.

And:

Even when you consider the smallest high-end devices from the Android manufacturers, it’s not hard to see that the iPhone SE comes out on top. Apple’s A9 SoC is still one of the fastest chips you’ll find in a smartphone, and it goes without saying that the Snapdragon 810 SoC in a smartphone like the Xperia Z5 Compact really isn’t comparable in the slightest. Based on my experience, the camera is also unmatched at this size and price.

A remarkable review, a wealth of detail.

From Apple’s press release:

Apple® today announced an update to GarageBand® that celebrates the rich history of Chinese music with new instruments and extensive Chinese language localization throughout the app. Building on GarageBand’s extensive collection of sounds, this update adds traditional Chinese instruments — the pipa, erhu and Chinese percussion — along with 300 Apple-created Chinese musical loops, giving users the power to tap into their creativity and make beautiful Chinese-inspired music right on their iOS device or Mac®. GarageBand for iOS users also get two new Chinese templates for Live Loops, and new sharing options to popular Chinese social networks, so they can easily share their music creations with friends and followers across QQ and Youku.

“GarageBand is the most popular music creation app in the world and we’re excited to introduce these new features that incorporate the rich history of traditional Chinese music,” said Susan Prescott, Apple’s vice president of Product Marketing. “By adding classic Chinese instruments and new Live Loop templates, the new GarageBand app makes it fun and easy to make Chinese-inspired music right on your iPhone, iPad or Mac.”

Apple continues its full court press in pursuit of success in China.

Another quote in the press release is from JJ Lin, a Singaporean singer and songwriter:

“As a musician I’m always looking for ways to take my music in new directions and GarageBand has been such a great tool for me to experiment and add new elements to my songs on-the-go,” said award-winning music artist JJ Lin. “I love how the latest update to GarageBand adds traditional Chinese instruments along with brand new loops so I can play around with mixing traditional and modern sounds to create completely new styles.”

Lin is based in Taiwan. You can see him in action, GarageBand jamming with Tim Cook in the video embedded below. Tim might appear to just be nodding along, but keep an eye on his thumb. His timing is tight.

Kirk McElhearn, writing for Macworld:

I find the changes Apple has wrought to the interface of iTunes 12.4 to be both positive and intuitive, and I think all users will find these new ways of navigation to be more efficient, once they get used to them.

Read on for the details. Also, don’t miss Kirk’s list of minor tweaks that came with the iTunes 12.4 update.

David Chartier:

When using a hardware keyboard with iOS 9, you can hold the Command key to view a cheat sheet of an app’s shortcuts (assuming its developer has updated to add some). But I noticed this morning that those shortcuts can be contextual, based on the task at hand or which panel or tab you are currently viewing.

Interesting. Check out the images in the post for more on this, especially if you’ve never seen the iOS 9 keyboard shortcuts menu before.

Jean-Louis Gassée, writing for Monday Note:

‘Just you wait’, Intel kept telling us, year after year. ‘Yes, our legacy x86 architecture, dominant in the PC world, hasn’t yet won a place in smartphones and tablets, but our company’s superior manufacturing technology will inevitably lead to victory…’

Last month, Intel finally threw in the towel and tossed thousands of people to the curb.

What happened?

Like a decade long, slow motion train wreck. As each year came and went, I kept thinking, Intel is going to turn soon, right? Great writeup by Jean-Louis Gassée.

May 16, 2016

Apple and other companies in recent months have been subjected to reviews that target encryption and the data storage of tech products, said people briefed on the reviews who spoke on the condition of anonymity. In the reviews, Chinese officials require executives or employees of the foreign tech companies to answer questions about the products in person, according to these people.

This must be worrisome for foreign companies. This isn’t an Apple specific issue, so I hope people don’t overreact to this news.

As merchants like Walmart move ahead on their own mobile payment strategies, a consortium that once counted Walmart — along with a number of other big retailers and brands — behind it, has taken a step back. Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX) today announced it would postpone a nationwide rollout of CurrentC, a smartphone payment initiative originally conceived as a mobile wallet rival to smartphone-led services like Apple Pay and Android Pay. As a result, MCX said it would lay off 30 people as it shifted its focus to working with financial institutions.

It’s dead, just cancel it.

ZZ Top: Sharp Dressed Man

Billy is one of my favorite guitar players—such great style.

I would totally wear one of these.

The change could happen in the next two weeks, said the person who asked not to be named because the decision isn’t yet public. Links currently take up 23 characters, even after Twitter automatically shortens them. The company declined to comment.

Of all the changes that Twitter has talked about, I love this one. It’s a small, but significant change.

Cook’s visit, following a trip to China, comes at a crucial time as Apple looks for new growth markets after posting its first ever decline in iPhone sales, and as India has denied it permission to sell refurbished phones – a move seen as key to appealing to price-sensitive local consumers.

This makes perfect sense considering how much Tim has talked about India lately.

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway takes $1 billion stake in Apple

The gamble hints at Berkshire’s confidence in Apple’s ability to create new products that reignite revenue growth. That may either come with the iPhone 7, set to be introduced later this year, or in new product categories such as autonomous driving or virtual reality hardware.

I think that’s a good bet.

Apple updates iTunes

You can get the new Mac version by opening the Mac App Store and checking for updates. Version 12.4 adds some navigation and menu changes that Apple characterizes as a “simpler design.”

The European Union has accused Google of promoting its shopping service in Internet searches at the expense of rival services in a case that has dragged on since late 2010.

Several people familiar with the matter told Reuters last month they believed that after three failed attempts at a compromise in the past six years Google now had no plans to try to settle the allegations unless the EU watchdog changed its stance.

I joined Dan Lizette on The Podcast Digest last week. We had a great discussion about podcasts, history, and some other interesting topics.

Something about Apple

I happened upon this post from Daniel Jalkut, reflecting on the twentieth anniversary of his hiring at Apple.

Apple has always possessed ineffable uniqueness among its corporate peers. From the moment of its founding as a scrappy, barely funded home-made computer manufacturer, to forty years later when its value and influence are almost impossible to comprehend.

This year, many new young people will stare down at the relatively meager salary they’ll be earning, sign away their agreement to start in two weeks, and be in for the twenty-year ride of their lives.

There’s just something about Apple. I feel it. And, if you’re reading these words, you no doubt feel it too. Hard to put it into words, but it’s real, and it goes beyond the products. It’s a shared experience, a thrilling ride from underdog to the impossibly cool.

I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

M.G. Siegler, writing about Radiohead’s new release, A Moon Shaped Pool:

The Radiohead release points to another way forward. One I’m far more excited about as a fan. Distribute broadly, upsell deeply.

That is, put your album out there for all (or most) to hear, but then pull in your truly die-hard fans to buy exclusive content at a premium.

And:

The idea of up-selling your most loyal fans to buy more is nothing new, of course. But having those super-fans subsidize everyone else is new and is a potential way forward for the music business. While Radiohead did a wide release of A Moon Shaped Pool for streaming, they also made sure to direct fans to their website where they could buy all sorts of far more expensive album-related goodies.

Actually, infinitely more expensive, as most of the people who are listening to the album on services like Apple Music were probably already paying for it. Radiohead will get a cut for the streams, of course. But what they sell on their site, they keep.

Radiohead is making the adjustment to a new reality. Streaming is here and the new mainstream. The up-sell to their fan base is Radiohead’s way of not just living with the “barely scraping by” that comes from their share of streaming money. Interesting read from M.G. Siegler.

I love taking things apart. I’ve raised my kids that way, curious, careful, and often ruefully reflecting on mistakes.

This web site is a crowdsourced effort to collect disassembly instructions. As an example, this link walks through the process of completely taking apart a Strat-like electric guitar. Lots of pictures. Everything comes apart.

There’s a lot of buzz about iTunes deleting people’s music. There’s the well known behavior, where Apple Music replaces music in a remote repository (for example, replacing a local copy of a tune on your iPhone when your music is hosted on your Mac). And then there’s the more insidious behavior, where a song is replaced or deleted on your official base repository.

In this post, Kirk McElhearn addresses the latter:

First, let me point out how important Time Machine is for backing up files. Unlike a standard backup, where a utility copies all your files to an external drive, adding changed files and removing deleted files, Time Machine keeps older files even after they’ve been deleted. So you can go back through the history of your files and potentially find a file that was deleted six months ago, and restore an older copy.

To do this, get soma-zone’s $10 Backup Loupe. This app can scan every Time Machine backup you have, and show you which files were added and which were deleted from each backup.

Backups will save your music, and the layered Time Machine backup will allow you to track down specific missing files.

I am a big fan of Monument Valley. When I came across Luke Dormehl’s review of Mekorama, I had high hopes. I downloaded the game, gave it a whirl, was not disappointed. This is a fun ride, beautifully executed.

Here’s the link.

Washington Post:

China has moved with surprising speed to prepare for the next generation of automotive technology. Government officials recently unveiled a draft proposal that would let fully driverless cars onto highways by roughly 2020, and on city streets by 2025. And unlike the United States, which features a criss-crossing jumble of federal, state and local automotive regulation, China’s more centralized approach to governance could allow Beijing to leapfrog Washington on the technology.

Apple’s investment in Didi seems quite nuanced, serves Apple on a number of levels.

CNBC:

Apple chief executive Tim Cook met some of China’s hottest app developers and used a Didi Chuxing car to visit Apple’s store in the popular shopping district Wangfujing on Monday, after arriving in Beijing for a charm offensive.

And:

At the Apple store, Cook attended a seminar hosted by Didi Chuxing’s President Jean Lui, also known as Liu Qing, and attended by the founders and CEOs of some of China’s top app providers, including Groupon-like Meituan, picture-editing app MeituPic, news content provider Toutiao.com, culinary app DayDayCook and game developer Tap4Fun.

According to local media, the Apple boss told the app developers that their innovative work was consistent with Apple’s “spirit.”

As a reminder, Tim Cook struck a deal with Did Chuxing President Jean Lui to invest $1 billion in the Chinese Uber competitor.

Tim is definitely playing up this new relationship:

After the seminar, Cook posted two photos of himself and Liu on his official Weibo account and said, “Enjoyed sharing a taxi ride this morning to the Apple Store Wangfujing. Thanks, Jean Liu and Didi Chuxing!”

While it is not clear if the Didi investment will bring its own windfall, there is certainly an advantage to having a champion within the Chinese tech community.

May 15, 2016

The Wirecutter:

Although many reviews on Amazon are legitimate, more and more sketchy companies are turning to compensated Amazon reviews to inflate star ratings and to drum up purchases.

Have you ever seen some random product for sale that’s from some brand you’ve never heard of, and the company has no website—yet its widget has somehow garnered 15,000 five-star reviews since … last week? We sure have. This situation is likely the result of a compensated-review program. Such compensated reviews—orchestrated by businesses that cater to companies that want more public positive feedback—violate Amazon’s terms of use but are difficult to police.

As more of us trust “crowd-sourced” reviews over individual writers, there’s value in gaming those reviews. Here’s a good primer on how to spot the fakes.

May 14, 2016

Siri has lost her mind—Updated! Google doesn’t know either

Update: I updated the wording I used to query both Siri and Google and ended up getting similar results. Very slight change in how it was asked, but with different results.

I use Siri all the time to confirm the NHL schedule and simple things like that. It works well, even though looking up a schedule isn’t the most difficult task in the world. Or maybe it is.

I was sure there was a playoff game on TV last night, so I asked Siri about 4:00 pm PT what the NHL schedule was—she replied with the score of the previous night’s game, but no information on a game that night.

I was still sure there was a game on, so I asked Google. I was right, a game started in an hour. Siri still had no idea about the game.

This morning I was talking to parents about the score of the game and we got the scores of different games in the last few days confused. I asked Siri:

“What was the score of the NHL game last night?”

As you can see, Siri gave me the score of a Russia vs NHL game played on February 12, 1987.

IMG_0428

I asked Google and it gave me the score from last night’s game.

IMG_0429

I’ve never seen Siri do this type of thing before.

Update: I inadvertently used two different phrases to ask the same question to Siri and Google. When I ask Siri:

“What was the score of the NHL game last night?”

It gives me the correct answer, as Google did.

IMG_0431

However, if I ask:

“What was the score of last night’s NHL game?”

Siri gave me the Russia score pictured above. However, Google didn’t give me the proper answer either. It gave me the scores from the previous series.

IMG_0430

I’m confused.

May 13, 2016

Some good points here from Viticci, but I can still see why Apple turns off access to the microphone.

Apple comments on iTunes deleting music

Apple on Friday contacted The Loop with a statement regarding reports that iTunes is deleting music from people’s library without permission.

“In an extremely small number of cases users have reported that music files saved on their computer were removed without their permission,” Apple said. “We’re taking these reports seriously as we know how important music is to our customers and our teams are focused on identifying the cause. We have not been able to reproduce this issue, however, we’re releasing an update to iTunes early next week which includes additional safeguards. If a user experiences this issue they should contact AppleCare.”

I’m not surprised Apple hasn’t been able to reproduce the issue because it does seem rare. Hopefully they will be able to isolate the problem in the update coming next week.

Strat vs Tele vs Les Paul: Ultimate Guitar Comparison

Great video showing the tonal differences between some iconic guitars.

Living with Gboard

I’ve switched iOS keyboards, and maybe for good. There are a lot of things to love about Google’s new Gboard keyboard for iOS and I have so far only encountered the slightest of downsides. Gboard, like all third party keyboards, does not have access to the dictation button (the microphone to the left of the space bar). To get it back, tap the globe icon to switch back to the original keyboard and the dictation button pops back into place.

Some things I like about Gboard:

  • Though some folks have complained that the Roboto font looks out of place (it does look different, no doubt), I actually prefer it. It’s drawn with finer lines and I find it easier to read (and detect boldface in) the suggested text.
  • I love the use of boldface in the suggested text. If one of the 3 suggested words is in boldface, hit a space and that word is entered. Hit a backspace and it goes back to what was there before. Sort of like the standard keyboard, but the standard keyboard requires an additional tap to get back to what was there.
  • I love slide typing. It works especially well for long words. I have yet to successfully type the word GIF with slide typing, though. Pilot error?
  • GIF searching is a nice bonus. I don’t use a lot of GIFs in my tweets, but likely this is because it was too much of a hassle. Gboard makes it super easy to find the GIF you want. Maybe too easy?
  • And then, of course, there’s search. Perhaps the best feature of all. Tap the search button, type in your search, tap a result and it’s in your text. Easy peasy.

Some folks have suggested that this keyboard is a wedge into iOS for Google. I see the logic, but I don’t see it as a problem for Apple. If Apple was unhappy with the direction Google took Gboard (if Google changed their privacy terms, for example), it’d be easy enough for Apple to shut that door.

As is, I think Gboard is brilliant and it is now my default iOS keyboard.

UPDATE: Looks like Gboard is US only. At least for the moment.