Amazing Stories Apple TV+ trailer

[VIDEO] Steven Spielberg is a great storyteller. Think of all the iconic stories he’s laid at our feet, from the varied adventures of Indiana Jones, to ET, from Back to the Future to Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List. There are some clunkers, for sure, but Spielberg is a master of visually laying out a ripping yarn.

Set your reminder for March 6th, when the first episode of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories reboot drops. The Amazing Stories trailer is embedded in the main Loop post.

Slowly but surely, Apple’s catalog is growing. I am bullish on Apple TV+. All Apple needs here is time.

Our Motorola Razr’s display is already breaking and peeling at the fold

This reminds me of the rollout of Samsung’s Galaxy Fold.

Early days still, but I’ll go out on a limb and say Samsung has learned some hard lessons from that release and, I suspect, the Galaxy Z Flip will fare better than the Fold. Making a foldable phone is no easy thing, and Samsung is mastering (presumably) a technology that will give them an edge on newcomers to the market.

Two things:

  • Are foldable phones necessary? Is this an important evolution in smartphone technology?
  • Does this mean Apple is falling behind?

If the answer to the first question is yes, then I’d wager that Apple knows this and is quietly developing foldable expertise in a lab somewhere, choosing not to reveal their mistakes and strategy in public.

The paywalled garden: iOS is adware

Steve Streza:

Over the years, Apple has built up a portfolio of services and add-ons that you pay for. Starting with AppleCare extended warranties and iCloud data subscriptions, they expanded to Apple Music a few years ago, only to dramatically ramp up their offerings last year with TV+, News+, Arcade, and Card. Their services business, taken as a whole, is quickly becoming massive; Apple reported $12.7 billion in Q1 2020 alone, nearly a sixth of its already gigantic quarterly revenue.

All that money comes from the wallets of 480 million subscribers, and their goal is to grow that number to 600 million this year. But to do that, Apple has resorted to insidious tactics to get those people: ads. Lots and lots of ads, on devices that you pay for.

We’ve all seen the wave of ads, seemingly everywhere you turn. Especially if you have not subscribed to a particular service.

Follow the headline link to Steve’s post, scan through the images. You’ve no doubt encountered ads like these, especially if you’re using social media.

I get it. Apple’s market is maturing, and shareholders demand growth. Apple has turned to services for that growth and these ads are a necessary evil. To me, the fault lies in the mechanisms of capitalism, in the self-defeating motivations placed on any publicly traded company.

Why iCloud keeps me from switching from Apple Music to Spotify

Bradley Chambers, 9to5Mac:

Over the years, I’ve dabbled with using Spotify instead of Apple Music. Both platforms offer users access to millions of songs and offer a wealth of personalization options. The one thing that has always kept me coming back and sticking with Apple Music is iCloud Music Library. iCloud Music Library is a feature that allows you to upload your own music and have it live right alongside your Apple Music content. It’s a feature that I use frequently, and it’s something Spotify can’t match.

And:

A perfect example of the usefulness of iCloud Music Library is when artists hold new albums off streaming platforms for a few weeks/months after the release. Recent examples were Taylor Swift’s Reputation album and Adele’s 25 album. Both of these albums were massively popular, but neither were available on Spotify or Apple Music for months. Apple Music users could buy it from iTunes or Amazon MP3, add it to iCloud Music Library, and it would appear with their existing albums. Spotify users were out of luck getting it imported into their Spotify library on mobile.

With so much music available on both sides, features are what distinguish one service from the other. This one is a clear win for Apple Music.

Now if only I could get Apple to stop replacing the version of a song I added to my library with a version they have in theirs.

The mind-bending amount that Amazon knows about you

Leo Kelion, BBC News:

I submitted a subject data access request, asking Amazon to disclose everything it knows about me

Scanning through the hundreds of files I received in response, the level of detail is, in some cases, mind-bending.

One database contains transcriptions of all 31,082 interactions my family has had with the virtual assistant Alexa. Audio clips of the recordings are also provided.

And:

Clicking on another file reveals 2,670 product searches I had carried out within its store since 2017. There are more than 60 supplementary columns for each one, containing information such as what device I’d been using, how many items I subsequently clicked on, and a string of numbers that hint at my location.

One spreadsheet actually triggers a warning message saying it is too big for my software to handle. It contains details of the 83,657 Kindle interactions I’ve had since 2018, including the exact time of day for each tap.

This great read is the story of how this all evolved. Chock full of detail, chock full of links. Well done Leo.

Mac360 founder with ALS says goodbye

Ron McElfresh, Mac360 founder:

A few years ago I came down with an odd neuromuscular disorder that has slowly become debilitating. After 18 months of tests with a dozen different doctors I was referred to Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. More doctors and extensive tests confirmed a preliminary diagnosis of ALS. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Think of it as a slow-motion death sentence where muscles begin to waste away and tasks as simple as tying shoelaces or buttoning a shirt or standing become major accomplishments.

And:

My spirits are high (most of the time). I’ve led a good life, worked hard, and appreciate the loving support from family and friends, but I know– and feel– the end is near.

That means I can no longer continue to run Mac360 and the Apple Villagers websites as they are today.

Damn.

Here’s a link to a GoFundMe to help defray Ron’s medical expenses.

Watch Jason Snell edit a podcast on an iPad

[VIDEO] Many reasons to watch this (video embedded in main Loop post). First, check out how much work goes into editing a podcast. I’d wager few podcasts get this much attention, this much love. This is amazing work.

Next, check out the design of Ferrite Recording Studio. The details are wonderful. And watching Jason work with Ferrite is like watching a master craft with beautifully well-designed tools.

To me, this is an app that raises the value of iPad, just as page-layout tools and LaserWriter raised the value of Mac, back in the day.

A real rotary-dial cellphone

This post rocketed to the top of Hacker News yesterday. I couldn’t post it because of this.

But time passes and the post eased out of the top spot, the web site became accessible again.

Take a look. Don’t get caught in the “but it’s not usable” trap. This is some amazing design.

Well done, Justine.

The weird world of Apple Watch workout artwork

At first blush, I liked this purely for the chance to see all the artwork in one place.

But then I started thinking about the questions Stephen Hackett posed in the text. Pretty, pretty good.

If the Hunting workout icon is standing in a cloud, who are they shooting at?

This app automatically cancels and sues robocallers

Edward Ongweso Jr, Motherboard:

DoNotPay, the family of consumer advocacy services meant to protect people from corporate exploitation, is launching a new app aimed at helping end our long national nightmare surrounding robocalls by giving you a burner credit card to get their contact details then giving you a chatbot lawyer to automatically sue them.

And:

Robo Revenge combines both features to automatically add you to the Do Not Call Registry, generate a virtual DoNotPay burner credit card to provide scammers when they illegally call you anyways, use the transaction information to get the scammer’s contact information, then walk you through how to sue them for as much as $3,000 per call under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), a law already on the books meant to protect consumers from calls that violate the Do Not Call Registry. The app also streamlines the litigation paperwork by automatically generating demand letters and court filing documents.

This strategy might be effective against US-based telemarketers. But not at all against overseas scammers trying to get at your bank account, arguably the more dangerous of the two. Still, it’s something.

Andy Rubin’s Essential Products, once valued at $1 billion, shuts down

.

New York Times:

Once considered one of Silicon Valley’s most promising hardware technology start-ups, Essential had raised $330 million in outside funding because of the track record of Mr. Rubin, who is widely credited with creating Google’s Android smartphone software.

And:

Essential was also dogged by news about Mr. Rubin and the circumstances of his departure from Google. The New York Times reported in 2018 that Google had paid Mr. Rubin a $90 million exit package after claims of sexual misconduct with an employee were deemed credible. Mr. Rubin has denied the claims.

From the Essential blog:

In October, we introduced Project GEM, a new mobile experience that our hardware, software and cloud teams have been building and testing for the past few years. Our vision was to invent a mobile computing paradigm that more seamlessly integrated with people’s lifestyle needs. Despite our best efforts, we’ve now taken Gem as far as we can and regrettably have no clear path to deliver it to customers. Given this, we have made the difficult decision to cease operations and shutdown Essential.

An amazing story. Rubin and company burned through $330 million in other people’s money, with nothing to show for it. Poof. It’s gone.

Siri will now answer your election questions

Sarah Perez, TechCrunch:

With the added Siri integration, you’ll be able to ask the assistant both informational queries, plus those requiring real-time information.

For example, you may ask Siri something like “When are the California primaries?,” which is a more straightforward question, or “Who’s winning the New Hampshire primaries?,” which requires updated information.

On my iPhone, most everything worked as advertised. On HomePod, some questions got the, “I can’t get the answer to that on HomePod” response.

Try it yourself:

What were the results of the Democratic Iowa Caucus?

This comes up when the information has not been pre-parsed for HomePod Siri and requires a web lookup.

Gruber: Let’s get real about how important our phones are

First things first, this from Geoffrey Fowler, writing for The Washington Post, commenting on Samsung’s new phones, announced yesterday:

With prices ranging from $1,000 to $1,400, either one is hard to justify as much more than a luxury.

Gruber:

There are way more people on the planet who’d rather have a $1,400 phone and a $400 laptop than the other way around. But you’ll never see a tech reviewer claim that $1,000-1,400 is “hard to justify” for a laptop.

Read Gruber’s piece, headline-linked.

Obviously, current, state-of-the-art smartphones have indeed become much more expensive, beyond the budgets of many. But Gruber’s point is spot on. Smartphones have become the new laptops, the main computer for many people.

Apple engineer killed in Tesla crash had previously complained about autopilot

KQED News:

An Apple engineer who died when his Tesla Model X slammed into a concrete barrier had previously complained about the SUV malfunctioning on the same stretch of Silicon Valley freeway.

His complaints were detailed in a trove of documents released Tuesday by federal investigators in two Tesla crashes involving Autopilot, one in the Bay Area and the other in Florida.

This is the crash, back in 2018, that took the life of Apple engineer Walter Huang. If you’ve got the stomach for it, follow the headline link and check out the picture of the crash. The front of the Tesla is completely destroyed.

Fills me with anxiety just thinking about turning over control of my driving to any form of autopilot, let along being a passenger in a driverless car.

Apple restores mail app after developer tries to rally ‘Sherlocked’ victims

Adi Robertson, The Verge:

Apple has restored the email app BlueMail to the Mac App Store after its developer began a campaign to rally small developers. Blix, founded by brothers Dan and Ben Volach, has been locked in conflict with Apple for several months. It alleges Apple stole its anonymous sign-in feature for “Sign in with Apple,” then kicked it out of the App Store on flimsy pretenses to suppress competition. Apple, conversely, has said it removed the macOS app for security reasons.

From Apple’s point of view:

Apple has denied that its standards were inconsistent. “The App Store has a uniform set of guidelines, equally applicable to all developers, that are meant to protect users,” said the company in a statement. “Blix is proposing to override basic data security protections which can expose users’ computers to malware that can harm their Macs and threaten their privacy.” A spokesperson says that last week, Blix submitted a new version of its app that respected Apple’s Gatekeeper security software and resolved technical problems, including an issue that produced privacy and security warnings for users at launch.

Apple does take Gatekeeper seriously. In addition to Gatekeeper adherence, a new policy requires apps to go through a notarization process, where the developer uploads their app and it is scanned for malware. Hard to know if this is a developer not following protocol, or something deeper, perhaps connected to Blix suing Apple.

Blix fought their battle with Apple in public. You can read their side of this on the Bluemail web site.

Inside Mark Zuckerberg’s lost notebook

Steven Levy, Wired:

I took it in stride that Zuckerberg looked even younger than his 21 years. I’d been covering hackers and tech companies for long enough to have met other peach-fuzz magnates. But what did shake me was his affect. I asked him a few softball questions about what the company was up to, and he just stared at me. He said nothing. He didn’t seem angry or preoccupied. Just blank. If my questions had been shot from a water pistol at the rock face of a high cliff they would have had more impact.

And:

Though I was unaware at the time, I had joined the club of those stunned by Mark Zuckerberg’s trancelike silences. Facebook VP Andrew Bosworth once called this stare “Sauron’s gaze.”

I know the above does not touch on Zuckerberg’s notebook. But it is just a taste of Steven Levy’s writing. He’s one of my favorite tech writers and has been for years. He wrote the first great book on Macintosh, 1994’s “Insanely Great.”

The linked article is an excerpt from Levy’s upcoming book on Facebook, and it’s him at his best. Terrific read.

Swift Playgrounds catalysts from iPad over to Mac

Ever wanted to learn how to program? If you’ve got an iPad, Swift Playgrounds has been your solution for years. But thanks to Catalyst, Swift Playgrounds is now available on the Mac.

I like Swift Playgrounds because there’s zero programming experience required. I like Swift Playgrounds on the Mac because it is one step closer to Xcode.

Some truly old school tech

[VIDEO] This video (embedded in the main Loop post), from a few years ago, was near the top of Hacker News this morning. Pretty cool.

It shows an Apple II, connected to an acoustic coupler, connecting to the net via a rotary telephone. That’s about as old school a net connection as you can get. RS-232, anyone?

Apple and Hearables

Counterpoint Research:

Apple expected to lead the true wireless hearables market, selling more than 100m units in 2020. Competition for second place will remain fierce, especially in the premium market.

From the hearables Wikipedia page:

The neologism “hearable” is a hybrid of the terms wearable and headphone, as hearables combine major assets of wearable technology with the basic principle of audio-based information services, conventional rendition of music and wireless telecommunication. The term was introduced in April 2014 simultaneously by Apple in the context of the company’s acquisition of Beats Electronics and product designer and wireless application specialist Nick Hunn in a blogpost for a wearable technologies internet platform.

I read “hearables”, I think AirPods. Apple so dominates this market. If you’re interested in the history of the term and the market, the Wikipedia page is a fascinating read.

How to own some big-time music, film, and other royalties

Follow the headline link, start scrolling. It’s a market for film and music royalties:

Artists turn to Royalty Exchange to raise money and take control of their financial future. We connect them with private investors through the world’s first online marketplace for buying and selling royalties. Creators love us because we give them a powerful new way to fund their career. Investors love us because we help them generate income that’s hard to beat. And our commitment to transparency and honesty ensures value for all.

A few (of many) highlights:

  • The film “Trading Places”
  • Jay-Z, Alicia Keys “Empire State of Mind”
  • Ben & Jerry’s “Cherry Garcia”
  • “Black Water” and 23 other Doobie Brothers songs

Note that copyright is generally not included in the auction. You pay up front, get the royalties over time. Fascinating.

WSJ: Judge approves T-Mobile, Sprint merger

Wall Street Journal:

A judge’s approval of T-Mobile US Inc.’s takeover of Sprint Corp. will usher in a new balance of power in the U.S. wireless market and test whether three giants will compete as aggressively for cellphone users as four unequal players once did.

And:

The opinion will leave most of the country’s wireless customers with three major network operators: Verizon Communications Inc., AT&T Inc. and the new T-Mobile. New entrant Dish plans to use the deal as a springboard for its mobile ambitions, while U.S. cable companies are stuck with existing providers’ networks for their fledgling cellular services.

And:

The judge was convinced both by testimony from Sprint executives that the struggling carrier was falling behind, despite what he described as “valiant attempts” to remain competitive, and from Dish that it would be able to operate a viable new carrier.

He also acknowledged the effort the FCC and Justice Department put into crafting a fourth nationwide carrier run by Dish. The agreement requires Sprint to sell airwaves and about nine million customer accounts to Dish.

Better for consumers? Who knows.

From the horse’s mouth: Here’s a link to the decision itself.

How big companies spy on your emails

Joseph Cox, Motherboard:

The popular Edison email app, which is in the top 100 productivity apps on the Apple app store, scrapes users’ email inboxes and sells products based off that information to clients in the finance, travel, and e-Commerce sectors. The contents of Edison users’ inboxes are of particular interest to companies who can buy the data to make better investment decisions, according to a J.P. Morgan document obtained by Motherboard.

Edison responded in a Medium post titled A Reminder of How We Use Data and Protect Privacy:

To keep our Edison Mail app free, and to protect your privacy by rejecting an advertising-based business model, our company Edison Software, measures e-commerce through a technology that automatically recognizes commercial emails and extracts anonymous purchase information from them. Our technology is designed to ignore personal and work email, which does not help us measure market trends.

Edison puts privacy first in everything we do as a company and that includes making our users aware of how we use their data in our products.

If the product is free, you are the product.

Back in the ’70s, someone made this observation about television being free. Prescient.

Counterpoint: I LOVED Apple TV+ Mythic Quest

Yesterday, Shawn posted a link to FastCompany’s Mythic Quest review. They appreciate it technically, but did not get the funny. Fair enough.

One particular line paints the picture for me:

I am not a gamer, so I can’t speak to the precision and accuracy of every detail.

And there’s the rub. You don’t have to be a gamer to get the humor, but it does help. There’s a lot of context in many of the jokes.

Personally, I absolutely love the show. I found it funny, insightful, irreverent, and clever. It worked for me and for my wife, a rare comedy in that regard.

No complaints about the FastCompany review. It was, overall, very positive. The reviewer just didn’t find it funny. I’ve read a number of reviews that shared my love for the series. So do give it a chance. It’s on my short list of the best shows on any streaming platform, period.

Samsung teases Galaxy Z Flip in Oscars ad

[VIDEO] Samsung hasn’t officially posted the ad on YouTube yet, but that hasn’t stopped any number of people from capturing and reposting the ad themselves. One such capture is embedded in the main Loop post.

A pretty good ad, though two things stick out in the fine (tiny and blurry) print, there at the bottom of the screen:

  • You may notice a small crease in the center of the main screen, which is a natural characteristic of the screen.

And:

  • Screen images simulated.

The ad ends with, “Unpacked 02.11.20”. That’s tomorrow.

Makes me wonder if Apple will release a foldable that requires a public caveat about a crease in the screen.

Backstage at the Oscars: Apple keyboard rant

Backstage at last night’s Oscars, writer/director (and winner of Best Adapted Screenplay for Jojo Rabbit) Taika Waititi was asked what writers should be asking for in the next round of talks with producers. His response was all about the Mac keyboard.

Watch for yourself. I’m guessing a number of you will be nodding your head in agreement.

https://twitter.com/IndieWire/status/1226704317136220160

This person does not exist

I posted a link to this a while back. It’s an AI that generates computer-generated faces.

In the last incarnation, the faces are realistic, but I could easily pick out artifacts from each face, blurry hair, odd shapes, unrealistic facial features.

That has all changed. To my eye, these artificial people are eerily perfect. Fake people, for your consideration.

A fix for iPad multitasking

Ryan Christoffel, MacStories, lays out his fix for iPad multitasking. This is some thoughtful, detailed feedback for Apple, a proposal to fix a system that is certainly problematic.

Personally, I find iPad multitasking to be confusing at best. So much so, I’ve just avoided it. There have been times when I’ve gone to swipe a second app off the screen, only to have the swipe get processed by the app and, on more than one occasion, swipe-deleted something from an app accidentally.

That said, I see the massive potential in iPad multitasking. It’s not an easy system to design, and I hope the team at Apple takes Ryan’s thoughts to heart, is willing to take a step back and consider some design changes to address user confusion.

Apple shares Night mode ad

[VIDEO] A little Night mode music, “We Only Come Out At Night” by Smashing Pumpkins. Video embedded in main Loop post.