Google : 2010s :: Microsoft : 1990s 

Jason Snell, writing at Macworld:

As someone in Google’s ecosystem as well as Apple’s, I’m happy that they continue to develop apps for iOS. Unfortunately, every time I open one of them, I’m brought back to the mid-’90s and Word 6.

I don’t know the reason — arrogance, pride, or a lack of desire to do the extra work are all options — but for a while now, Google has insisted on using the Material Design approach when creating iOS apps. Just as Word 6 inflicted Windows conventions on Mac users, Google’s iOS apps inflict Android on iOS users. […]

I’m not saying either design is superior. If you’re on Android, you should expect apps to look like Android apps–Apple Music for Android uses Android’s icons for sharing and offering additional options, rather than the ones you’d see on iOS. And the reverse should be true too. (It’s not. Google Play Music looks the same on iOS as on Android.)

Hear, hear. I find every one of Google’s iOS apps too foreign to bear.

Update: Jason specifically calls out iTunes on Windows as being in the same boat. I’d add the late Safari for Windows, too.

Peter Thiel, Comic Book Hero 

Great take from Ben Thompson:

The tech industry, like Thiel, is no underdog: it is the dominant economic force not just in the United States but in the entire world, both because of the wealth it creates, but especially because of the wealth it destroys. And, to quote another comic book figure, “With great power comes great responsibility”.

In this case, no matter how badly Thiel was personally hurt by Gawker, or how morally wrong their actions were, he is the one with far greater power, and the appropriate approach is not to leverage said power in an act of vigilantism, but to exercise the responsibility of defending the conditions that made his power possible to emerge, conditions that I believe are to the long-term benefit of everyone. That would be an approach worth applauding and emulating, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because the freedom that made possible the tech industry that made Thiel rich depends on it.

Google Beats Oracle in Java API Case 

Joe Mullin, reporting for Ars Technica:

Following a two-week trial, a federal jury concluded Thursday that Google’s Android operating system does not infringe Oracle-owned copyrights because its re-implementation of 37 Java APIs is protected by “fair use.” The verdict was reached after three days of deliberations. […]

There was only one question on the special verdict form, asking if Google’s use of the Java APIs was a “fair use” under copyright law. The jury unanimously answered “yes,” in Google’s favor. The verdict ends the trial, which began earlier this month. If Oracle had won, the same jury would have gone into a “damages phase” to determine how much Google should pay. Because Google won, the trial is over.

I’m sure they’re out there, but I haven’t seen anyone who was rooting for Oracle in this case.

Update: Florian Mueller, writer of the FOSS Patents weblog, is staunchly on Oracle’s side:

Also, while Google was able to present all of the “evidence” and testimony that helped its defense, Oracle had been precluded from presenting the entirety of its willful-infringement evidence.

Presumably, Judge Alsup will deny Oracle’s motion for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL), if his jury instructions are any indication. Then Oracle will appeal again. I predict Oracle is very likely to succeed once again on appeal.

What Does Facebook Think About Board Member Peter Thiel Secretly Funding Lawsuits Against a Publisher? 

Kara Swisher, writing for Recode:

What does Facebook, which has been trying mightily to court the media industry to publish on the social networking site, think about Thiel’s actions, especially given he is a prominent director of the company?

And, more importantly, will it do anything about them?

The answer is, not surprisingly, a solid “No comment” from the company and a number of other board members. In fact, insiders are going out of their way to say that Facebook is not responsible for Thiel’s private actions and noting that it had nothing to do with the lawsuit.

Felix Salmon: ‘Peter Thiel’s Dangerous Campaign Against Gawker’ 

Felix Salmon, writing at Fusion, making the case that Peter Thiel revealed his role in the Hogan-Gawker case as a strategic move:

But then the Thiel bombshell dropped. The Hogan case, it turned out, wasn’t a war in which Gawker could emerge victorious; instead, it was merely a battle in a much larger fight against an opponent with effectively unlimited resources.

Gawker could continue to fight the Hogan case; it could even win that case outright, on appeal. But even if Hogan went away, Thiel would not. Thiel’s lawsuits would not end, and Thiel’s pockets are deeper than Denton’s. Gawker’s future is indeed grim: it can’t afford to fight an indefinite number of lawsuits, since fighting even frivolous suits is an expensive game.

The result is that investing in Gawker right now is a very unattractive proposition, since any investor knows that they will be fighting a years-long battle with a single-minded billionaire who doesn’t care about how much money he spends on the fight. And if Gawker can’t raise any new money to continue to fight the Hogan case, then its corporate end might be closer than anybody thinks.


Peter Thiel, Gawker, and Freedom of Speech

Jason Willick, writing for The American Interest in defense of Peter Thiel:

It’s also not clear what policy response Gawker’s outraged defenders would recommend. Put caps on the amount of money people can contribute to legal efforts they sympathize with? That would put the ACLU and any number of advocacy groups out of business. It would also represent a far greater threat to free expression than a court-imposed legal liability for the non-consensual publication of what is essentially revenge porn. If Marshall and others are worried about the superrich harassing critics with genuinely frivolous lawsuits — as, yes, authoritarian characters like Donald Trump have attempted to do — they would have more success backing tort reform measures to limit litigiousness overall than attacking Thiel for contributing to a legitimate cause he has good reason to support.

Willick’s argument is that Thiel’s bankrolling of Hogan’s case against Gawker is within the bounds of free speech. I don’t disagree. My counter to Willick, though, is that it’s possible to be outraged and/or alarmed by Thiel’s behavior without proposing any sort of new legislative barrier to prevent this sort of thing.

Willick:

Fortunately, this debate does not needs to be resolved, because our First Amendment protects the speech rights of everyone, regardless of where they reside on the left-wing privilege totem poll. And that means Peter Thiel’s right to back Hogan’s cause is not and should not be in dispute, no matter how much Gawker-sympathizers hand-wave about how the wealthy contrarian is ushering in a totalitarian oligarchy.

It’s free speech on both sides. Thiel was free to secretly back (and apparently strategically steer) Hogan’s case against Gawker. But Gawker founder Nick Denton was free to air his suspicion that Hogan had a billionaire Silicon Valley backer, and Forbes was free to out Thiel as said backer. And now commentators who are appalled are free to express their outrage at Thiel, perhaps embarrassing him and making it less likely that he or others of similar super-wealth will do this in the future. Willick’s defense of Thiel strikes me as being of a piece with the view that the super rich are an aggrieved, rather than privileged, class.

I, for one, don’t dispute Peter Thiel’s right to back Hogan’s case. I simply think he’s an asshole for doing it, and a coward for having attempted to do it in secret. 


Andrew Ross Sorkin Interviews Peter Thiel 

Andrew Ross Sorkin of The New York Times scored Thiel’s first interview regarding Thiel’s heretofore secret funding Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker (to the tune of around $10 million). The problems start with the headline: “Peter Thiel, Tech Billionaire, Reveals Secret War With Gawker”. Thiel did not reveal it — Forbes did. If it were up to Thiel this would still be secret. The fact that Thiel waged his “war” secretly is a key aspect of this story that should not be brushed over.

“It’s less about revenge and more about specific deterrence,” he said in his first interview since his identity was revealed. “I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest.”

OK.

Mr. Thiel said he considered his financial backing of the cases against Gawker to be “one of my greater philanthropic things that I’ve done. I think of it in those terms.” He refused to divulge exactly what other cases against he has funded but said, “It’s safe to say this is not the only one.”

Philanthropy. Got it.

Update: It’s possible that Thiel himself was the source for Forbes’s story revealing his role. I didn’t see that angle, but if so, and Sorkin’s aware of it, “reveals” works in the headline. But none of Thiel’s public remarks supports that.

Elizabeth Spiers on Gawker and Peter Thiel 

Elizabeth Spiers:

On the one hand, you have to admire Thiel’s sheer and apparently unending determination to make Denton and Gawker pay for coverage he didn’t like — it’s Olympic level grudge-holding. But the retribution is incredibly disproportionate in a way that seems almost unhinged. It would be hard to argue that Thiel was materially damaged by Gawker’s coverage in the way that he’s now trying to damage Gawker. His personal finances haven’t been destroyed and even the most egregious things Gawker has written haven’t put literally everyone who works for Thiel out of a job. (What did Lifehacker ever do to Peter Thiel?) And given his hard libertarian tendencies, it should at least make him uncomfortable in a very prickly way to utilize government bureaucracy to put a capitalistic enterprise out of business.

Even if Thiel wants to argue that Owen Thomas’s 2007 notorious “Peter Thiel is Totally Gay, People” post had a cataclysmically negative emotional toll for him, trying to destroy the entire business via abuse of the U.S. legal system still seems so epic in its vindictiveness that I couldn’t help but wonder whether this kind of asymmetrical reaction is just part and parcel of what you can expect in Thiel’s orbit generally, if you choose to do business with him.

Adobe on QuickTime on Windows 

There is some irony to the fact that Adobe is wrestling with the problems caused by security vulnerabilities in an Apple plugin.

‘Oldie Complains About the Old Old Ways’ 

Brent Simmons:

So, again, I’m documenting the problems currently solved by Objective-C’s dynamism, and suggesting that Swift, as it evolves, needs to take these problems into account. The foundation should be built with some idea of what the upper floors will look like.

The answer doesn’t have to be that Swift is dynamic in the way Objective-C is, or even dynamic at all. But the eventual Swift app frameworks need to solve these problems as well as — hopefully better than — UIKit and AppKit do right now. And those solutions start with the language.

I love Brent’s open-minded approach to this debate. One thing I’ve seen some “I’ve switched to Swift and don’t miss the dynamic aspects of Objective-C” proponents seemingly overlook is that today’s Swift apps for iOS and Mac rely (deeply) upon the dynamic Objective-C runtime and frameworks. There’s no such thing as a pure-Swift app on iOS or Mac today — they’re apps written in Swift on top of dynamic frameworks.

Everything Is a Remix: The Force Awakens 

Kirby Ferguson on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Great stuff, as usual.

Josh Marshall on Peter Thiel’s Bankrolling of Hulk Hogan’s Lawsuit Against Gawker 

Josh Marshall, writing at TPM:

It all comes down to a simple point. You may not like Gawker. They’ve published stories I would have been ashamed to publish. But if the extremely wealthy, under a veil secrecy, can destroy publications they want to silence, that’s a far bigger threat to freedom of the press than most of the things we commonly worry about on that front. If this is the new weapon in the arsenal of the super rich, few publications will have the resources or the death wish to scrutinize them closely.

Brian Roemmele on VocalIQ and the Self Learning Technology in the Next-Gen Siri 

Brian Roemmele:

It is not a secret that Siri has not kept up the pace that just about all of us expected, including some of the Siri team. The passion that Steve had seemed to have been waning deep inside of Apple and the results were Dag and Adam Cheyer moved on and formed Five Six Labs (V IV in Roman numerals) and Viv.

(VI and V are 6 and 5 in Roman numerals. IV is 4. So “Viv” could come from V-IV (5-4) or VI-V (6-5). This image from their website suggests “Viv” comes from 6-5. Anyway, Roman numerals suck. Update: The article now reads “formed Six Five Labs”, but still has the Roman numerals wrong.)

Tom Gruber, one of the original team members and the chief scientist that created Siri technology, stayed on and continued his work. During most of 2016 and 2017 we will begin to see the results of this work. I call it Siri2 and am very certain Apple will call it something else.

(No relation, for what it’s worth.)

Apple has always been a vital mix of internally created technology and acquired technology. From iTunes to TouchID Apple has been spectacular in identifying young and smart companies and integrating them into the very core of Apple.

Late in 2015 Apple approached a small Cambridge, England Voice AI company called VocalIQ and made a pitch to Blaise Thomson that he could not refuse. As a University of Cambridge spin out, VocalIQ had already been around for about 2 years and I had become very familiar with their amazing technology. VocalIQ built astounding technology that no doubt you and I will use every day, some day soon.

Via Nick Heer (whose excellent Pixel Envy should be on your daily reads list), who writes:

So, who’s excited for WWDC?

Forbes: Peter Thiel Has Been Secretly Funding Hulk Hogan’s Lawsuit Against Gawker 

Ryan Mac and Matt Drange, reporting for Forbes (sorry for linking to Forbes — I think this is the first time I’ve done so since they started attempting to block visitors using content blockers — but this is their scoop):

Peter Thiel, a PayPal cofounder and one of the earliest backers of Facebook, has been secretly covering the expenses for Hulk Hogan’s lawsuits against online news organization Gawker Media. According to people familiar with the situation who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, Thiel, a cofounder and partner at Founders Fund, has played a lead role in bankrolling the cases Terry Bollea, a.k.a. Hogan, brought against New York-based Gawker. Hogan is being represented by Charles Harder, a prominent Los Angeles-based lawyer. […]

Money may not have been the main motivation in the first place. Thiel, who is gay, has made no secret of his distaste for Gawker, which attempted to out him in late 2007 before he was open about his sexuality. In 2009, Thiel told PEHub that now-defunct Silicon Valley-focused publication Valleywag, which was owned by Gawker, had the “psychology of a terrorist.”

“Valleywag is the Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda,” Thiel said at the time.

A storyline right out of pro wrestling.

(Interesting perhaps only to me: I already had tags in my CMS for “Gawker” and “Hulk Hogan”, but not for “Peter Thiel”. Apparently this September 2014 post was the only time I’ve even mentioned Peter Thiel on Daring Fireball.)

‘Scotch Trooper’ 

Very fun Instagram account.

The Information: Apple Developing Siri API and Echo-Like Device 

Amir Efrati, writing for The Information (paywall, alas):

Apple is upping its game in the field of intelligent assistants. After years of internal debate and discussion about how to do so, the company is preparing to open up Siri to apps made by others. And it is working on an Amazon Echo-like device with a speaker and microphone that people can use to turn on music, get news headlines or set a timer.

Opening up its Siri voice assistant to outside app developers is the more immediate step. Apple is preparing to release a software developer kit, or SDK, for app developers who want their apps to be accessible through Siri, according to a person with direct knowledge of the effort. […]

Apple hopes to make the Siri SDK available in time for its annual conference for developers in June.

Will be interesting to see how this API works. Will the Siri extensions be packaged within existing iOS (and Mac?) apps? As for the Echo competitor — I hope they call it the Hi-Fi.

Hazel 4.0 

Speaking of Paul Kim, he just released version 4.0 of his excellent Mac utility, Hazel. If you’ve wanted an app to automatically clean up the files on your desktop and Downloads folder, that’s Hazel. Hazel does a lot more than that, but that’s the basic gist. You set up the rules you want and it just works. (If you want to know just how much more Hazel offers, David Sparks just released a two-and-a-half hour Hazel Video Field Guide that will teach you just about everything.)

Michael Tsai’s Dynamic Swift Roundup 

One more item regarding Swift and dynamism — Michael Tsai’s excellent roundup of links on the subject, including this Hacker News thread.

On Dynamism 

Paul Kim:

One thing many people seem to overlook about the dynamism of Objective-C is that it enabled NeXT (and Apple) to provide better GUI tools. Using dynamism, they were able to make GUI building declarative in nature. Connect this to that. Call this method. All stored in a file that was (and still is) data, not code. Competitors at the time (and today) resorted to code generation which is fragile and, ironically, unsafe. Yes, you could have a more declarative file format, but implementing that in using a static language required a lot of hard-coding and switch statements. Not the elegance that many people claim to be moving towards.

I’m not saying that a language has to be purely dynamic but it shouldn’t be purely static either. It think it’s spurious not to credit a level of dynamism for the quality of apps on Apple platforms over the years, and to be pedantic, the NeXT ones as well — many of which were considered the best on any platform at the time. To deny that, I feel, shows a lack of understanding of what has made the platform great all these years.

Objective-C is a very dynamic language. Swift (for now at least) is not. There are arguments on both sides, and I find the whole thing fascinating. But what I’ve noticed is that those arguing most strenuously against dynamism (or if you prefer, in favor of Swift’s relatively strict type safety) are doing so in the name of idealism. That rigorous type safety is correct almost in a moral sense (or, if you prefer, that the sort of bugs you can write with Objective-C’s dynamic features are immoral, that a modern language should prevent you from writing them in the first place).

Those arguing in favor of dynamism — and keep in mind Kim’s utterly even-handed stance quoted above — are doing so from an utterly practical perspective. We have 25 years of evidence that Objective-C and the NeXTStep/Cocoa/Cocoa Touch frameworks allow for the creation of the best apps in the world — and that they allow smaller teams to accomplish more, faster. (Exhibit A: Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web singlehandedly on a NeXT system in 1991.)

I can’t prove that dynamic nature of Objective-C and the frameworks has been essential to the success of the Mac and iOS for app development. But a lot of people who’ve spent years — or decades — creating those apps sure think so. I tend to side with pragmatism over idealism.

Why Big Apps Aren’t Moving to Swift (Yet) 

Ben Sandofsky:

I strongly believe Swift is the future of iOS development. It’s only a matter of when, and the blocker is the breakneck speed it evolves. For smaller apps, Swift is good enough. For big apps, it’s at least a year away. […]

If you’re working in a smaller app, stop reading. The benefits of Swift 3.0 probably outweigh the risks. If you’re curious about the challenges of large companies, large codebases, and complex dependencies, this post should explain why big projects are holding back.

In the run-up to WWDC (and in the wake of this announcement from Chris Lattner a week ago, that certain features slated for the upcoming Swift 3.0 have been postponed) I’ve seen a slew of great pieces on Swift and dynamic programming. Sandofsky provides a good layman’s overview of why it’s not yet practical — arguments over dynamism aside — for big apps to move to Swift.

Kirk McElhearn on iTunes 12.4 

Kirk McElhearn, writing at Macworld:

Apple has thankfully merged the two different types of contextual menus, in most locations. Instead of one menu displaying when you click the “…” button, and another when you right-click an item, the menus are the same, and work in the same way. I never understood why Apple wanted these two menus to be different, but it’s good that they’ve realized how confusing they were.

Unfortunately, there are some locations where the “new” contextual menu exists; click the “…” button next to an artist or album name, and the new menu is still there. There’s also a new Song menu in the menu bar, which reproduces the menu items from the contextual menu.

When you’re watching a movie, the Song menu changes to Movie; watch a TV show and it changes to “TV Show”. I don’t think it’s a bad idea, but I’ll be damned if I can recall another app that did something like this with the name of a menu.

See also: McElhearn’s follow-up with additional observations.

Marco Arment on Apple and AI 

A thoughtful piece by Marco Arment over the weekend, which spawned much discussion:

Today, Amazon, Facebook, and Google are placing large bets on advanced AI, ubiquitous assistants, and voice interfaces, hoping that these will become the next thing that our devices are for.

If they’re right — and that’s a big “if” — I’m worried for Apple.

Today, Apple’s being led properly day-to-day and doing very well overall. But if the landscape shifts to prioritize those big-data AI services, Apple will find itself in a similar position as BlackBerry did almost a decade ago: what they’re able to do, despite being very good at it, won’t be enough anymore, and they won’t be able to catch up.

Here’s how Craig Mod put it:

When the interface becomes invisible and data based, Apple dies.

That sounds right to me. But I’m not sure I accept the premise that the rise of AI assistants will decrease in any way our desire for devices with screens. iPhone and Android doomed BlackBerry because people stopped buying BlackBerries. Even if we accept the premise that Google Assistant is going to be a big deal that Apple won’t be able to compete with, I’m not sure how that decreases demand for the devices Apple already makes.

I keep thinking back to the original iPhone introduction in 2007, when Steve Jobs touted their partnership with Google. Watch from around the 50 minute mark. Eric Schmidt even jokes that their partnership was sort of like a merger without actually merging — with Apple doing what Apple does best, and Google doing what Google does best. I don’t know if that was ever tenable in the long run, but it’s interesting to wonder where they’d be today if they had made it work.

Google’s Encryption Choices With Allo 

Hamza Shaban, writing for BuzzFeed:

Google’s “smart” replies and virtual assistant improve with use, “learning” by analyzing conversations and context. But this kind of fine-tuned processing requires a record or “memory” of chats that take place in the normal settings. Similar to Google’s web browser, Chrome, which includes its own incognito mode, the normal settings offer a more intuitive experience to consumers, Google said. The option to turn on incognito mode in Allo and enable end-to-end encryption offers additional security, but with the choice to revert back to the fuller version, Google added.

But others are concerned with the broader ramifications of Allo’s design. “Google has given the FBI exactly what the agency has been calling for,” Christopher Soghoian, the ACLU’s principal technologist, told BuzzFeed News.

A live Google bot inside a chat stream is an interesting feature, and it can’t be done with end-to-end encryption. But this means law enforcement can require Google to hand over transcripts, and effectively wiretap your “normal” Allo chats. That’s a tradeoff many people will be willing to make. My beef is with using the words “normal” and “incognito”. Perhaps I’m spoiled by iMessage, but to me a “normal” chat is one with end-to-end encryption and no AI bot. Allo’s “normal” chats are the ones that are abnormal.

And “incognito” is absolutely the wrong word for Allo’s private chats. The word incognito means “having one’s true identity concealed”. That’s not what happens with Allo’s private chats. You’re still identified by your phone number. They should call this “private”, not “incognito”.

Project Ara, Now Less Ambitious, Still a Dumb Idea 

Remember Project Ara, Google’s modular phone project? Headline of David Pierce’s piece for Wired: “Project Ara Lives: Google’s Modular Phone Is Ready for You Now”.

After years of failed demos, public sputters, and worrisome silence, Ara works. About 30 people within ATAP are using Ara as their primary phone. Camargo actually has the luxury of worrying about things like aesthetics, rather than whether it’ll turn on. “Please pay no attention to how it looks,” he tells me, flipping the blocky smartphone over in his hands, “because it’s a prototype.” It’s not a concept, not an idea, not a YouTube video. It’s a prototype. Developer kits for Ara will be shipping later this year, and a consumer version is coming in 2017.

In what universe does this qualify as “ready for us now”? It’s not ready at all, and nothing in this story makes it sound like a good idea. It’s nonsense.

Update: I’ve been asked why I think Ara is a dumb idea. Here’s what I wrote two years ago:

How does this have any more mass market appeal than building one’s own PC? And with mobile devices, size and weight matter more than ever, and reductions in size and weight can only come through integration.

Meh 

My thanks to Meh.com for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Every day they have a new daily deal — but even if you don’t care about the daily deals, they’re worth visiting just for the stories, videos, and community. Just go there and check it out — it’s easier than trying to explain it.

The Talk Show: ‘Facebook on Your Face’ 

For your weekend listening enjoyment, a new episode of America’s favorite 3-star podcast, with special guest Rene Ritchie. Topics include Apple’s new flagship retail store in San Francisco, recent improvements to App Store approval times, and Google’s announcements at I/O this week — Google Home and Google Assistant, Allo and Duo, and Android “N” and Android Instant Apps.

Brought to you by:

  • Casper: An obsessively engineered mattress at a shockingly fair price. Use code thetalkshow for $50 toward your mattress.
  • Warby Parker: Boutique-quality, vintage-inspired glasses at a revolutionary price. Try up to five pairs at home for free.
  • Wealthfront: An automated investment service with over $3 billion in client assets under management.
Inside Apple’s New San Fran Store 

Nice photographs from The Verge.

Apple Acknowledges ‘Error 56’, Pulls iOS 9.3.2 for iPad Pros 

Rene Ritchie:

Apple has pulled the iOS 9.3.2 update for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro and is working on a fix. Apple provided an updated comment to iMore on the issue:

“We’re working on a fix for an issue impacting a small number of iPad units that are receiving an error when trying to update the software,” an Apple spokesperson told iMore. “We’ll issue an update as quickly as possible.”

Seems odd that it took so long for Apple to pull this.

The Daily Mail: Daniel Craig Done With James Bond 

Rehema Figueiredo, reporting for The Daily Mail:

Insiders said Craig turned down a £68million offer from MGM studio to return as Bond for two more films following last year’s hit Spectre. The sum included endorsements, profit shares, and a role for him working as a co-producer.

One LA film source said: ‘Daniel is done — pure and simple — he told top brass at MGM after Spectre. They threw huge amounts of money at him, but it just wasn’t what he wanted.’ He added: ‘He had told people after shooting that this would be his final outing, but the film company still felt he could come around after Spectre if he was offered a money deal.’

One source said that executives had finally agreed to let the actor go after growing tired of his criticism of the franchise.

Craig had a very good run, but I thought Spectre was the worst of his films. The soap opera-style plot twist with Blofeld did damage to the entire Bond canon, and wasn’t suspenseful in the least. I’m ready for a Bond who enjoys being Bond.

The Verge’s Overview of the Google I/O 2016 Keynote 

I watched most of the keynote and came away very impressed. My short take:

Under the new Alphabet organization and Sundar Pichai’s leadership, Google has focused itself on the things Google is actually good at, and which people will actually want to use. No more pie-in-the-sky stuff like Google Glass. Google is clearly the best at this voice-driven assistant stuff. Pichai claimed that in their own competitive analysis, Google Assistant is “an order of magnitude” ahead of competing assistants (read: Siri and Alexa). That sounds about right. This might be like Steve Jobs’s 2007 claim that the iPhone was “5 years” ahead of anyone else.

Pichai’s example of a query Google Assistant can handle but which “other assistants” cannot was asking “What is Draymond Green’s jersey number?” I tried that query in the Google app on my iPhone. Got the right answer: 23. I tried with Alexa on my Echo, and got the response “Hmm. I can’t find the answer to the question I heard.” I tried with Siri, and I got this.

Update: Wow. Dozens of DF readers have replied that Siri correctly answers that same question when they ask: exhibits 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 on Twitter, and more via email. And lo, when I ask “What is Steph Curry’s jersey number?”, Siri nails it. But I’ve tried at least 20 times, on multiple iOS devices, with “Draymond Green” and Siri gets it wrong each time, usually sending me to that same dry cleaner in New Jersey, sometimes suggesting a Bing web search. I can’t get it to work even when I say “What’s the jersey number for Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors?” Maybe it’s my Philly accent. I tried with Derek Jeter (retired), Larry Bird (long retired), and Tony Romo (2017 Super Bowl champ-to-be) and Siri correctly answered all three — quickly.

Judge on Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee List Has Mocked Trump on Twitter 

I really liked this one.

iTunes 12.4 Brings Back the Sidebar 

Jacob Kastrenakes, writing for The Verge:

The key improvement here is the removal of the drop-down menu on the righthand side of the screen, which previously held all of the options that are now exposed in the lefthand menu. That’s a real help, but the lefthand menu doesn’t take over everything. You’ll still have to search through those top tabs to find major features, like Apple Music and the App Store. (There is, by the way, no one tab that says “Apple Music” — it’s actually a combination of the For You, New, Radio, and Connect tabs.)

Bringing back the sidebar is an improvement, but the fundamental problem remains: there’s no visual hierarchy to iTunes’s multitude of sections and features. Mail, for example, has a clear hierarchy: accounts → mailboxes → messages → message details. I’m not saying iTunes could or should copy Mail’s design, but it ought to be just as clear as Mail in terms of knowing where you are, or where to find something.

MacRumors on Siri for Mac 

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

In the menu bar, there’s a simple Siri black and white icon that features the word “Siri” surrounded by a box, while the full dock icon is more colorful and features a colorful Siri waveform in the style of other built-in app icons. Clicking on either of the icons brings up a Siri waveform to give users a visual cue that the virtual assistant is listening for commands, much like on iOS devices when the Home button is held down.

Why would Siri need both a menu bar item and an icon in the Dock?

NYT: Google to Introduce Voice-Activated Home Device Tomorrow at I/O 

David Streitfeld, reporting for the NYT from San Francisco, on the eve of Google I/O:

Google will introduce its much-anticipated entry into the voice-activated home device market on Wednesday, according to people who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Named Google Home, the device is a virtual agent that answers simple questions and carries out basic tasks. It is to be announced at Google’s annual developers’ conference in Silicon Valley.

Google Home will come to market in the fall — a long time away, given the speed of technology, but Google needed to plant a stake in the ground now. The device will compete with Amazon’s Echo, which was introduced less than two years ago.

Google has the speech recognition and back-end performance down. But is this going to be a Google-branded device, or a platform for OEMs like Android? The Times’s report makes it sound like a Google-branded device — none of which have done well. Update: I forgot about Chromecast, which is doing well. And Google Home might be the same sort of “just plug it in” low-cost device.

Amazon has already sold an estimated three million units.

Estimated by whom? How?

Intel Culture Just Ate 12,000 Jobs 

Jean-Louis Gassée:

But Intel had a justification, a story that it kept telling the world and, more perniciously, itself:

‘Just you wait. Yes, today’s x86 are too big, consume too much power, and cost more than our ARM competitors, but tomorrow… Tomorrow, our proven manufacturing technology will nullify ARM’s advantage and bring the full computing power and immense software heritage of the x86 to emerging mobile applications.’

Year after year (after year), Intel has repeated the promise. There are some variations in the story, such as the prospect of the 3D transistor, but mobile device manufacturers don’t seem to be listening.

Marvel Product Placement Run Amok: Tony Stark Using a Vivo Phone 

Dave Gonzales, writing for Geek:

Called a “Futurist” by Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye in the film, Stark is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s genius on the forefront of speculative technology. If Banner knows human mutation, Stark knows the machines. That’s why it’s so shocking to see Tony using a Vivo cell phone in Civil War, a cell phone that would absolutely be condemned by the US government if it were being used like it is in the film. It makes absolutely no thematic sense within the context of the film, but there’s a big reason why Marvel would endanger the theme of its most popular on-screen character.

Tony Stark using a Vivo phone is another of Marvel Studios’ ongoing attempts to make more money in the Chinese box office, which — for better or worse — has become noticeable to the American and English audiences.

Vivo doesn’t even sell phones in the U.S. They’re a mid-market Chinese brand. It’s not just gratuitous product placement — it’s simply incompatible with Tony Stark’s character. No phone would satisfy Tony Stark but his own, from Stark Industries. Stark’s phone in Iron Man 2 had subtle LG branding (bad enough), but also a prominent “Stark Industries” label on screen. But Vivo? If Marvel wants to sell out to the highest bidder for the other Avengers’ phones, that’s one thing. But not Stark.

See also: Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes’s ultimately futile resistance against James Bond using a Sony or Samsung phone, on the grounds that “Bond only uses the ‘best’, and in their minds, the Sony phone is not the ‘best’.”

(This post is proof that I’m concerned only with truly important matters in life.)

TSA Is Falling Apart 

Alan Levin, reporting for Bloomberg:

Reports filed over the time it took U.S. Transportation Security Administration to screen passengers grew more than 10-fold, to 513 this past March from 48 in March 2015. Concern about lack of courtesy by TSA screeners increased more than three-fold, to 1,012 in March from 294 a year ago. […]

The TSA is trying to get 500 new airport screeners through training and onto the job by the end of June as a growth in travelers has led to longer lines at airports. Almost 6,800 people traveling on American Airlines missed flights in March due to delays at TSA checkpoints, airline spokesman Casey Norton said in an interview earlier this month.

Almost 7,000 people in a single month, just on American. That’s unacceptable. TSA has never been competent at conducting airport screening — but this year the whole thing is collapsing upon itself.

AnandTech Reviews the iPhone SE 

Speaking of the iPhone SE and the complete dearth of similarly-sized Android phones:

As I said earlier in the review, Android manufacturers have essentially given up on making small smartphones, and most of them haven’t actually made a top tier smartphone at the 4-inch size in about four years. By 2012 things had moved to 4.5 inches or more, with Samsung also introducing the original 5.3-inch Galaxy Note near the end of 2011. Today’s idea of a compact Android phone is something like the Xperia Z5 compact, where the screen has a size of 4.6 inches, which is just a bit smaller than the screen on the iPhone 6s. Getting an even smaller screen means moving to truly low end smartphones like the Moto E, and at that point you’re discussing two entirely different parts of the market.

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. It’s certainly a step behind the best Android phones and the iPhone 6s Plus, but bringing the sensor from the iPhone 6s to the SE allows for some really great photos, and the best 4K recording video you’ll get on a phone.

The results of their battery life test are simply astounding. The iPhone SE beat the iPhone 6S by nearly two hours: 9.27 vs 7.45. Goes to show just how much more power larger displays consume.

The Tiny Hands Review of the iPhone SE 

Nice piece by Adrianne Jeffries for Motherboard, on the history of phone sizes:

For the past three weeks, I’ve been using an iPhone SE.

I’m an Android user. I like my widgets and my Google apps, and I always felt the iPhone was too fancy and breakable for me. This was my first experience using an iPhone as my everyday device.

The phone, which has the same processor as the iPhone 6s, is certainly fast. The camera is crisp and good in low light. The battery has remarkable stamina.

The iPhone SE is also cheaper than other iPhones, starting at $399 as compared to $649 for the 6s.

But there’s really only one thing that would make me break for an iPhone: size.

The iPhone SE’s popularity clearly suggests that a significant number of people prefer a smaller phone. But so why aren’t there any top-tier Android phones with 4-inch displays? I’m genuinely confounded by that.

Jason Snell Reviews the 2016 MacBook 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

What’s less reasonable is transmuting last year’s fair criticism into outrage that Apple hasn’t given the MacBook an immediate rethink. Given the lead time it takes to redesign hardware, the cramped space inside the MacBook shell, and Apple’s track record in keeping product designs around for at least two years, changing the MacBook design now would have been tantamount to Apple admitting that the statement it was making with the MacBook was misguided.

While I’m sure that Apple has heard the criticism and possibly even agreed with some of it, do I think that Apple regrets the overall statement that the MacBook makes? Not on your life. The MacBook is inhabiting the role that the MacBook Air used to fill in Apple’s product line — it’s the future, the cutting edge, a product that seems outlandish today but will appear commonplace tomorrow. (I’ll remind you that the MacBook Air also debuted as an impractical low-powered laptop with a single USB port — and it was nearly three years before Apple redesigned the Air hardware.)

I’m also not entirely sure why Apple would regret it. Does every computer need to offer every feature to appeal to every user? We heap our expectation and desire on every new Apple product, and the MacBook’s design pushes back. It is unabashedly a product that is not created to check all the boxes. In fact, it checks some you didn’t know existed and ignores the existence of ones you considered givens.

The outrage is coming from people who want Apple to update the MacBook Airs with retina displays. That’s not going to happen. The Airs are now Apple’s low-priced models. The Pros will get thinner (and thus more Air-like) and the new MacBook will get faster (and thus more Air-like). But the MacBook Air as we know it serves only one purpose: to hit the $899/999 price points.

MacRumors: ‘iOS 9.3.2 Bricking Some 9.7-Inch iPad Pro Devices With “Error 56” Message’ 

Juli Clover, writing at MacRumors:

While not all 9.7-inch iPad Pro users have reported problems, there have been a number of reports on the MacRumors forums and on social networks, suggesting the problem is widespread. Attempting to restore through iTunes doesn’t appear to resolve the issue. From MacRumors user NewtypeCJ:

Mine is bricked. Says it needs to be plugged into iTunes, won’t restore or update, just a big loop. Fantastic. :/

Proceed with caution, if you’ve got a 9.7-inch iPad Pro that hasn’t yet been updated to iOS 9.3.2. I have a friend whose company tried upgrading two 9.7-inch iPad Pros to iOS 9.3.2, and both of them hit this error. (They understandably left their third one running 9.3.1.) I know a bunch of people have updated their iPad Pros successfully, so it’s not universal, but it still seems dangerously common.


Translation From Corporate Jargon Doublespeak to English of MCX CEO Brian Mooney’s Statement on the Future of CurrentC

From a statement released by Brian Mooney, CEO of MCX, the consortium behind the long-overdue mobile payments app CurrentC:

Utilizing unique feedback from the marketplace and our Columbus pilot, MCX has made a decision to concentrate more heavily in the immediate term on other aspects of our business including working with financial institutions, like our partnership with Chase, to enable and scale mobile payment solutions.

CurrentC is a complete and utter failure.

As part of this transition, MCX will postpone a nationwide rollout of its CurrentC application.

CurrentC’s nationwide rollout is never going to happen.

As MCX has said many times, the mobile payments space is just beginning to take shape — it is early in a long game. MCX’s owner-members remain committed to our future.

We’re falling further behind every day. MCX’s owner-members are giving up on this misguided endeavor.

As a result, MCX will need fewer resources. This change has resulted in staff reduction of approximately 30 employees.

We were forced to lay off 30 employees. Everyone remaining should start polishing their résumés.

These are very tough decisions, but necessary steps.

We had no choice.

For those employees leaving us, we want to thank our colleagues for their hard work and dedication to MCX over the last several years.

We want to thank our departing colleagues for their hard work and dedication to MCX over the last several years, and wish them well in their future endeavors. Christ, I can’t even manage a straightforward “thank you”, can I? 


Gboard

Rajan Patel, lead engineer for Google’s new iOS keyboard:

Say you’re texting with a friend about tomorrow’s lunch plans. They ask you for the address. Until now it’s worked like this: You leave your texting app. Open Search. Find the restaurant. Copy the address. Switch back to your texts. Paste the address into a message. And finally, hit send.

Searching and sending stuff on your phone shouldn’t be that difficult. With Gboard, you can search and send all kinds of things — restaurant info, flight times, news articles — right from your keyboard. Anything you’d search on Google, you can search with Gboard. Results appear as cards with the key information front and center, such as the phone number, ratings and hours. With one tap, you can send it to your friend and you keep the conversation going.

My first thought, of course, was “Sounds like a privacy disaster — Google will see and log everything people type with this keyboard.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case. During setup, Gboard displays this simple privacy statement, regarding its need for you to grant it “full access”, including networking:

This lets you use Google Search in your keyboard. Your searches are sent to Google, but nothing else you type is.

Here’s what Google says in the app’s description in the App Store:

Privacy

We know the things you type on your phone are personal, so we’ve designed Gboard to keep your private information private.

What Gboard sends to Google:

  • When you do a search, Gboard sends your query to Google’s web servers so Google can process your query and send you search results.
  • Gboard also sends anonymous statistics to Google to help us diagnose problems when the app crashes and to let us know which features are used most often.

What Gboard doesn’t send to Google:

  • Everything else. Gboard will remember words you type to help you with spelling or to predict searches you might be interested in, but this data is stored only on your device. This data is not accessible by Google or by any apps other than Gboard.

This privacy policy could change in the future, of course. Deals can be altered, and Google’s history of deliberately circumventing iOS privacy features is well-documented. But right now, it looks like Gboard is actually private. In fact, so far as I can tell, not only are you not required to sign into a Google account to use it — there is no way to sign in to a Google account even if you wanted to. Queries sent through Gboard don’t show up in my Google search history, even when I’m signed into my Google account in other Google iOS apps. Only what you type in Gboard’s search input field gets sent to Google, and even that is always sent anonymously.

Whether this is Google’s own magnanimous decision, a technical limitation in iOS, or a policy decision enforced by App Store review, I don’t know.

Other notes:

  • Gboard is iOS-only for now, but Android users seem to want it.

  • Design-wise Gboard is a little weird. All of Google’s recent iOS apps use Google’s Material Design visual language, including the Roboto font. Their iOS apps look and work a lot more like Android apps than iOS apps. Gboard, however, was visually designed to mimic the standard iOS keyboard very closely. Gboard sports slightly different colors and changes a few key placements,1 but is clearly designed to look like the familiar system keyboard — I’ll bet many users will think Gboard is only adding a search bar above the system keyboard. (Third-party keyboards in iOS can’t merely modify the system keyboard — they must reimplement just about everything from scratch.2)

    But Gboard uses Roboto instead of SF. The differences between Roboto and San Francisco are sometimes subtle, but to my eyes it just makes it look out of place on iOS 9. Also, they chose too thin a weight of Roboto — I can barely see the period on their “.” key. I think the whole Material Design thing feels terribly out of place on iOS. I’m glad they didn’t do it with Gboard, but they should have gone the whole way and used San Francisco for the typeface, too.

  • Gboard has some interesting emoji features. First, rather than make you switch to a different keyboard, it has its own dedicated emoji layout built in, including search. Mac OS’s “Emoji and Symbols” picker has long allowed for search; it’s long struck me as a little curious that iOS’s standard emoji keyboard does not. Second, Gboard’s predictive text feature will suggest emoji in addition to actual words. Type “dinner” and the first predictive suggestion is “🍴”; type “basketball” and you get “🏀”. That’s clever.

  • Update: Federico Viticci: “There must be people at Google who really don’t get the iPad. Gboard is very good on the iPhone; the layout is atrocious on the iPad Pro.” I didn’t even think to try it on an iPad — for some reason I’ve got it in my head that third-party keyboards are an iPhone-only thing on iOS.

  • Update 2: Rajan Patel, on Twitter, regarding this article:

    @daringfireball It was our magnanimous decision, we should go all the way w/ design, and we will polish iPad.

  • Update 3: Another cool feature. You know how you can move the insertion point by 3D pressing on the iPhone 6S keyboard? Gboard lets you move the insertion point by sliding across the space bar. 


  1. Example: Gboard uses a smaller return key with the “⏎” glyph as a label; iOS uses a bigger key labeled “Return” — but they’re both in the same location, the lower-right corner. Gboard uses the extra space created by its smaller Return key to add a “.” key to the alphabetic keyboard; press and hold on it and you get shortcuts for a bunch of common punctuation characters. ↩︎

  2. Apple does provide an API to play the standard keyboard click sound, for example. But what developers can’t do is just say “Display the standard keyboard and add this new toolbar above it.“ ↩︎︎


Ads via The Deck Ads via The Deck